China Mobile has chosen the United Kingdom as the location for its first Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO). Launched on December 13, CMLink is primarily aimed at conveniently and affordably connecting the hundreds of thousands of Chinese people living in the U.K. with friends and family back in China, while also offering some interesting benefits for tourists traveling to China. There’s also nothing stopping anyone else from using CMLink — even if they don’t have direct ties to China.
If you’re wondering why this is big news, it’s likely because you aren’t aware of China Mobile’s position. This isn’t a small mobile player opening an MVNO. China Mobile is the world’s largest mobile operator, with a staggering 880 million subscribers. That’s more than the total population of North America and the United Kingdom combined. Dr. Li Feng, chairman and CEO of China Mobile International, described CMLink as “an important step in China Mobile’s international expansion” during the launch event in London.
A CMLink SIM card mainly benefits Chinese people who spend time in both the U.K. and China, those who chat with family and friends in China from the U.K., or anyone with significant business dealings with China. Calls are free between CMLink and China Mobile subscribers, potentially providing massive savings with that feature alone, given how many people in China have a China Mobile connected device. CMLink is also the first operator to provide all-inclusive roaming in China and Hong Kong. That means any calls, texts, or data included in your CMLink package can be used there, along with many countries in Europe.
One feature not available at launch, but coming soon, is the ability to link a China Mobile number with the CMLink number. Messages that would normally be sent to a China Mobile number will also be sent to the linked CMLink card, making Chinese online shopping, banking, and other SMS-dependant services operational in the U.K. for visitors. Pop both SIM cards in a dual-SIM phone — a wise device choice for frequent travelers — and you’ve got a very cost-effective phone package for China and the United Kingdom all in one device, all from a single provider.
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China Mobile has also partnered with U.K. network EE — now owned by British Telecom — which is excellent news as it has the fastest 4G network available, as well as 86 percent landmass coverage. It intends to up that figure to 95 percent by 2020, and is already working on its 5G plans. China Mobile provides its own bilingual customer service as well, another bonus for visitors. The SIM card is free and can also be ordered online, with global delivery. During setup, you can choose from both Pay As You Go (PAYG) and monthly payment options.
On PAYG, CMLink to CMLink and China Mobile numbers are free, as are texts to CMLink numbers. Other U.K calls and SMS cost eight pence per minute. Per megabyte, data costs five pence in the U.K., Europe, and China. There are three pay monthly options. For 5 British pounds you get 500MB of data, 150 minutes, and unlimited SMS. For 10 British pounds, it’s 3GB of data and 500 minutes, and for 18 British pounds, it’s 9GB of data and 2,000 minutes. All provide the “roam-like-at-home” feature, and have a data boost system that rewards long-term use by increasing the data allowance by 5 percent each month. Maxed out, the cheapest package will give 1.5GB of data, the middle pack will give 9GB, and the most expensive CMLink package will have 27GB of data available to you, provided you stay loyal.
Although CMLink is a great deal for Chinese people in the U.K., or who visit frequently, it’s also an interesting proposition for U.K. visitors to China, for one very handy reason. It circumvents the need to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when you’re in China to access blocked services like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Search, and other sites. Even if you source a SIM card to use during your stay, using a VPN in China to stay in touch with friends is a pain. They’re often slow and unreliable, or terribly time consuming. Avoiding them is a huge bonus, and a distinct CMLink benefit.
CMLink SIM cards are available now, and China Mobile International gave the impression it’s only the first step in the company’s global MVNO plans.
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