China has made massive strides in enlarging its communication infrastructure in the last 10 years. Although the percentage of its population with basic phone and internet services remains low, due to its large population base, the absolute numbers of communication devices are among the world leaders:
- Phone lines in use: more than 284 million (This number is consistently dropping)
- Mobile phone users: more than 1 billion
- Internet users: more than 420 million
However, the penetration into the Chinese countryside is limited. Nonetheless, all large and medium-sized cities provide international express mail service and have developed international automatic telex, data transmission, express fax, and TV program transmission services.
Shanghai has a decent telecommunications infrastructure. Telephone lines are reliable and international dialing is simple to arrange, although, through lack of competition, prices for calls will be more expensive than in your home country.
Broadband internet service is inexpensive, widely available, and usually included in rental packages. However, it is much slower than the in the west, even if you have the widest possible connection. Sending large files can be a complete nightmare and everyone experiences long delays in sending and receiving emails from abroad. For some reason, offices generally have much faster connections. So, if you need to send a big file or do something in a hurry – use your office facilities.
All communications providers in Shanghai are local Chinese companies. Unfortunately, the customer services departments speak only Chinese. If you are lucky, you may get a customer services representative with a good enough grasp of English to fully understand your question and offer you a solution, but this is rare. It is more efficient to have a native Chinese speaker make contact on your behalf.
You need to be aware that many internet sites are unavailable from China because their content is deemed unsuitable. This can be frustrating if you are trying to track down news from your home country. Remember that China is still very much a censored country in terms of media access and openness. Sites like YouTube, Twitter, and Google are under heavy surveillance and regulation. Be prepared, therefore, to have certain topics go unexplored on the internet, radio, TV and newspapers while you are in Shanghai. Many ex-pats opt for using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to access the internet. The cost is around 5 USD per month and there are many providers located in the USA and Europe. It allows you to avoid censorship, reach forbidden websites, and increase speed. Don’t be afraid of legal problems, since its use is widely extended and authorities only pay attention to the use of the internet against the interests of the Party.