China: A Leader in Cell Phone Usage

As of the year ending 2008, China’s population was over 1.3 billion citizens.  Almost half the current population, 634 million people, are cell phone users. (3)  No wonder Motorola, Nokia, and Samsung have all clamored to build factories in China.  China Mobile is the largest service provider in China, with a market saturation of over 70%. (1)  There are two other large providers along with China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom.  These three providers are considered the “Big Three”.  (4)

In the United States, you would most likely obtain your cell phone through one of the carriers, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and so forth.  One would typically buy a 2 year contract post paid monthly from their service provider and would be eligible for an “upgrade” after the contract expires.  You can get a free phone with the upgrade, or you can choose to purchase a more expensive handset ranging in price from $20 up to $300-$400.   The number of options in features and hardware is mind-boggling, and if you think it is tough to make up your mind about the type of cell phone in which to buy in America, try shopping for one in China, as manufacturers offer hundreds of styles and functions.  In China you typically buy the handset from one of any numerous electronic companies, rather than a service provider, and for the service you are required to purchase a prepaid plan via a SIM card.   American handset purchases are driven by features and functionality, whereas the Chinese are more concerned with the latest, flashiest models.

How about a cell phone wrist watch, cell phone mirror, a handshaking phone?  A “handshaking” phone?  Yes, a handshaking phone is a cell phone where you can change music, wallpaper, menu, and TV by shaking the phone.  With the massive availability of handsets in China, it is not surprising that teenagers upgrade their handsets on average of every six to nine months.  Oh, but what about a cell phone that also lights your cigarette???  Ever think of that? 

Texting, or SMS (short message), is quite the rage among the Chinese, maybe more so than in the United States.  Text messaging is so fashionable, a new profession has evolved:  “the professional short text message writer”.  An article in China Today states that there is a healthy demand for writers of short text and jokes who get paid each time the messages are forwarded. (4)  Texting is also widely used in business, with voice mail about as unpopular as cutting someone off in traffic, in fact, it is not uncommon to be texted by your boss in the middle of the night. (5)

Sharing of ringtones or music through cell phones is another common activity in China.  Your ringtone is a statement of your individuality, and there are hundreds of websites in which to download ringtones or music. (2)  Dual SIM cards are also popular, which allows a user to use two separate services, such as business and personal, on the same handset.  Many businesses have moved away from costly landlines with sophisticated voice mail systems, and opting for employees to carry cell phones for business use.  That way, the employees are “available” at any time, especially when a superior calls. Group voice chatting is also a highly used function among the business culture.  And for pleasure, there are “party line” chat rooms for use in order to meet a significant other via your cell.

Another evolving cultural trend is the purchase of phone numbers.  Phone numbers with the number “8” are considered lucky and the more “8’s” in a phone number, the luckier the holder becomes as well as the higher the price to be paid.  “6” and “9” are also considered lucky, but not as much as the “8”.  There are also unlucky numbers in which users will avoid.  (2)

The cultural differences of cell phone usage between the US and China are evident.  It is not a revelation that US technology and culture seems to lag behind China.  I understand China has technology in handsets that put our “best” option, the iPhone, to shame.  With the MyPad‘s FIVE inch touchscreen, it’s kind of like a combination between the iPhone and iPad.

Texting is just taking off here in the states, whereas in China, it is the norm in business and personal life.  Service providers in the US control most of the sales in handsets.  Businesses still predominately use landlines with antiquated voice mail.  Of course, China has a more rigorous work ethic than Americans, so why not communicate to your subordinate at 3:00am?  Americans don’t have numerical adoration and abhorrence.  But I am sure we will catch up to many of these trends very soon.

1.  “Company Profile.” China Mobile. N.p., 2007. Web. 9 Apr 2010. <;.

2.  “China Youth Culture Study Subscription .” Research and Markets (2010): n. pag. Web. 9 Apr 2010. .

3.  United States. World Factbook. , Web. 9 Apr 2010. <;.

4.  WUZHOU, LI. “China’s Burgeoning Mobile Phone Industry.” China Today Sep. 2001: n. pag. Web. 9 Apr 2010. .

5.  Moxley, Ella. “Cell Phone Use, Texting Widespread in China.” Media Shift 20 Aug. 2008: n. pag. Web. 9 Apr 2010. .

One thought on “China: A Leader in Cell Phone Usage

  1. I knew about the lucky and unlucky numbers. For some reason the number
    four sticks in my mind. They are far better educated than we are. I don’t
    know how they inspire their youth.

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