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Cellphones

China Practically Unreachable By Western SMS? 258

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the can-you-read-me-now dept.
Ainsy writes "A friend of mine recently began a placement as an English pronunciation teacher in China. She has picked up a pay-as-you go sim for use over there, only to discover that China seems to have been almost completely overlooked by international communications agreements, specifically from the UK. A bit of snooping tells me that Vodafone is the only network from which it is possible to send SMS to a Chinese registered mobile phone. SMS in China is upscaling massively, and is incredibly cheap currently — even 'premium' SMS info services cost 1 Yuan (that's just £0.081 GBP). I'm curious why such a large section of the world market is cut off from the west's wireless communication networks especially with the recent Olympics putting the spotlight on the nation in general. China mobile is the world's largest carrier ranked by subscriber base (415 million) and isn't even the only carrier to operate in China). There are a few websites around from which SMS can be sent to China for a fee but this is of only limited use when on the move. Can anyone tell me why this situation has come about and when we can expect this sort of service to be enabled?"
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China Practically Unreachable By Western SMS?

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  • Is this for real? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shidarin'ou (762483) on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @11:52AM (#24845677) Homepage

    Can anyone tell me why this situation has come about and when we can expect this sort of service to be enabled?"

    Here's an answer to your second question: NEVER

    Here's an answer to your first question: Why the hell would the people's republic of china suddenly want to let unfiltered, uncensored text messages into the country while it keeps an iron fist on what their citizens see and hear even over the internet?

    Perhaps a more pragmatic answer would be that China will allow text messages to enter into the country when it's able to monitor and censor every text message, and connect a sender to a recipient with their name and current location (to allow for quick and easy arrests), and know who to detain when they enter the country.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @11:55AM (#24845721)

      Why the hell would the people's republic of china suddenly want to let unfiltered, uncensored text messages into the country while it keeps an iron fist on what their citizens see and hear even over the internet?

      This is exactly what I thought. Blaming "the rest of the world" is idiotic. Sending SMSes to China requires a cross-connect agreement, which means both sides have to agree to connect. Why does the author think it's nothing to do with the Chinese themselves?

      • Blaming "the rest of the world" is idiotic.

        I'm not convinced: I think it is by mutual arrangement. The Chinese government do not want outsiders informing the Chinese what their government is up to and the Western phone companies don't want the Chinese to inform their subscribers what they are up to: fleecing their subscribers for all they can with things like massively inflated SMS prices.

    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by Aphoxema (1088507) *

      Yeah, because we know that SMS messages are way more valuable than a phone call or email.

    • by Threni (635302) on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @11:58AM (#24845775)

      > Here's an answer to your first question: Why the hell would the people's republic of china suddenly want to let unfiltered, uncensored text
      > messages into the country while it keeps an iron fist on what their citizens see and hear even over the internet?

      There can't be an easier to control method of communication than SMS. You need a carrier in your country which delivers the messages to phones, which will be forced to allow monitoring; the messages are 160 characters each and text-only; the phone they're being sent to can be trivially geographically located etc. If you're going to keep a close eye on your subjects, you're going to watch to encourage SMS over any other system.

      It's exactly like in the UK/US, where all companies involved in communication (phone, parcels/mail, tv, radio) are controlled completely by their governments - there's no way of sending information without the authorities knowing who sent it to who. Encryption is something of a false hope, given that countries will either prohibit it or, slightly more sensibly, pass laws empowering courts to punish subjects for not revealing their passwords and/or decrypt the messages on demand.

      • by davidwr (791652) on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @12:16PM (#24846061) Homepage Journal

        It's exactly like in the UK/US, where all companies involved in communication (phone, parcels/mail, tv, radio)

        In the US it is legal to send mail up to 13 ounces without a return address. It is legal to send mail over 13 ounces without a return address but you have to hand-deliver it to a post office box and your face will typically be caught on camera. That's to prevent bombs and the like, not contraband information.

        In the USA, it's also legal to use a pay phone or a prepaid phone call without revealing your identity. You will reveal your location, so make sure you call from a relatively populated place that is devoid of cameras.

        For some, anonymity is a valuable commodity: Some people are willing to pay $10-$20 for a single phone conversation in exchange for anonymity - that's the approximate cost of a cheap prepaid cell phone with 10-20 minutes of talk time.

        • by afabbro (33948)

          It is legal to send mail over 13 ounces without a return address but you have to hand-deliver it to a post office box and your face will typically be caught on camera. That's to prevent bombs and the like, not contraband information.

          Well, that's the excuse. The reality is that it's to ensure full employment for thousands of members of the Letter Carriers' union. If it's illegal to send packages anywhere except at the post office, then you have to have people manning the windows...

        • by level4 (1002199) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @01:17AM (#24855521)

          In the USA, it's also legal to use a pay phone or a prepaid phone call without revealing your identity. You will reveal your location, so make sure you call from a relatively populated place that is devoid of cameras.

          For some, anonymity is a valuable commodity: Some people are willing to pay $10-$20 for a single phone conversation in exchange for anonymity - that's the approximate cost of a cheap prepaid cell phone with 10-20 minutes of talk time.

          No, you're buying an illusion of anonymity. With modern call log pattern analysis systems, intelligence services can determine your identity from your calling patterns, not the number from which you happen to make the call. The rough geographical location they get from the cell phone companies is just the icing on the cake. This kind of pattern matching is well suited to automation and it wouldn't surprise me one bit if every cell phone in every country with a decent intelligence service was subject to such analysis.

          One would also expect pre-paid "anonymous" cellphones to be subject to additional "identity guessing" analysis since they are an obvious option for "anonymity" that the naive crook might take. With a bit of data sharing and international cooperation, I bet they can track people as they move around the world from cellphone to cellphone.

          Basically, if there is any kind of pattern at all to your cell phone use - and there almost certainly is - cell phones are not "safe", no matter what. The same, of course, goes for people thinking that going to an internet cafe and thinking that their web browsing is somehow hidden. Fact is, if you log on at an internet cafe and then do the same 10 things you always do, that narrows the scope of your likely identity down like 6 orders of magnitude. Wow, thinks the computer, this session at this net cafe looks very similar to the guy at this home address. And boy, it's geographically pretty close. Likelihood: 85%. Save.

          If someone is watching at the telecoms/ISP level, and you can be sure they are if you're in a UKUSA country, then your identity is likely derivable from patterns of usage, not the registered owner of that IP/number/whatever.

          Sucks doesn't it. Anyway, it is possible to communicate anonymously, but it's a lot more work than just buying a prepaid. In fact you basically cannot use the phone system at all. You have to think a lot more like them, though, if you really want to escape the pattern matching dragnet.

          On the bright side, SIGINT is pretty high level stuff. The intel agencies are not going to be giving away this kind of info to the police, who will just overuse it and kill the golden goose - at most they'd send a tip or two in politically important cases, I guess. One would hope that the top-level intel agencies are fairly responsible with the awesome data they have and you'd have to be a pretty bad guy for them to actually act on info from pattern matching surveillance.

      • by CountBrass (590228) on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @12:31PM (#24846301)
        "There can't be an easier to control method of communication than SMS." of course there is, don't allow it at all.
        • by denzacar (181829)

          No communication is NOT communication.

          And snooping on 2 people NOT communicating is sure as hell going to get you far less information than snooping on 2 people communicating.
          Not to mention all those wonderful causes for search and seizure, arrest and imprisonment. Not necessarily in that order.
          Like "We have proof that you have been communicating with foreign powers that are conspiring against our beautiful land."

      • You can argue that there's excessive governmental interference in media and communications in the UK and/or US, but it's beyond hyperbole to suggest that "all companies involved in communication (phone, parcels/mail, tv, radio) are controlled completely by their governments", especially when the BBC of all things has explicitly stated protections from government interference in its activities.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by mystful (1135507)
      Skype allows text messages to be sent from anywhere in the world for a very reasonable fee. All of my Chinese friends (on multiple carriers) have been able to send text messages to my American (ATT) cell phone as well...
    • Re:Is this for real? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by timeOday (582209) on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @12:54PM (#24846731)

      Why the hell would the people's republic of china suddenly want to let unfiltered, uncensored text messages into the country while it keeps an iron fist on what their citizens see and hear even over the internet?

      Oooh, scary. Did you even read the summary? "A bit of snooping tells me that Vodafone is the only network from which it is possible to send SMS to a Chinese registered mobile phone." If it's already possible via Vodafone, that indicates it's a business rather than government issue.

    • Re:Is this for real? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Spikeman56 (543509) on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @12:56PM (#24846775) Homepage
      The parent has it all wrong. Like many things in China, to the untrained eye it looks like some direct attempt to refrain free speech. In reality it's completely economic...

      China Mobile _could_ allow anyone to send for free on their network, but frankly, very few people (relatively speaking) care. In a country so big and self-dependent, international texting doesn't matter.

      Opening up free internet based SMSs does little other than open up a HUGE hole for people to commercialize on China Mobile's service. China Mobile, being a government owned corporation, wants to ensure that it holds a monopoly on innovation on its network. This is largely why you see very little new things in terms of SMS happening in China, because if someone attempted anything, China Unicom would simply block their service and duplicate it.

      It's not about rights, it's all about money


      PS: Skype can send to Chinese phones (I'm in China so I've looked into this)
      • by Dogtanian (588974)
        Parent modded flamebait? Is this intentional troll-modding, or does someone just not like what he/she has to say? I found it very interesting, personally.
    • by mrops (927562)

      Working in telecom for the last few years, I think you are speculating.

      This sort of things more often than not happens because of lacking business arrangements. A simple thing as sending a SMS involves agreements at a business level as well as at a technical level.

      Often providers are cheap and they don't want to pay a clearing house to handle international SMS, they need to do this to stay competitive in the local market at the expense of borderline cases. This could be your UK provider or the Chinese one.

      S

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      I would like to also point out that SMS and cell phones services are the first things switched off by the authorities when a riot occurs somewhere. They fear that such uprising could propagate very quickly in some regions.
    • by Apache (14188)

      For each SMS containing a banned word, simply forge a second SMS from the same sender that says "Just kidding."

      Seems to work fine for their main "firewall."

    • .....It's Economics: as the original poster says,

      SMS in China is upscaling massively, and is incredibly cheap currently â" even 'premium' SMS info services cost 1 Yuan (that's just £0.081 GBP).

      it might be that there's no revenue sharing pact between local phone companies and the foreign mobile companies regarding text messages.

    • by steelfood (895457)

      I call BS on the second argument.

      SMS is no more private than webmail, and in some cases, even less so. There are anonymous webmail providers out there. There is no equivalent for SMS.

      Besides, China doesn't have to monitor and censor every message, only the ones from the outspoken people. China's "free speech" is only a little worse than in the US; you can say all you want about the government, but just not too loudly. The only difference is that you can't get jailed for that infraction alone in the US, thou

    • by antic (29198)

      Was in China for three weeks recently using global roaming and found that around half of my messages heading out of China were not received by the intended recipient at all. I do suspect, however, that I was charged for them.

      My brother, first using roaming, had a problem whereby messages would send 3-12 times each. He then switched to a local sim and we believe that all messages from that point were sent/received OK.

  • Spam (Score:2, Interesting)

    by scubamage (727538)
    Just think of how bad text message spam would be if those tricksy Chineses were able to reach us? I imagine it's largely preventative given the amount of spam originating from that country.
    • by arth1 (260657)

      Slightly more prosaically, I think many cell phone providers would not know what to do once messages in Big5, GB2312 and UTF-8 start arriving, crashing the outdated phones they subsidize expensive plans with.

      Better then, as they see it, to disallow messaging to/from China, Korea and Taiwan.

      • by scubamage (727538)
        That's a really good point - however, since most of the phones come from Korea, Taiwan, or China to begin with, I find it hard to believe they couldn't support unicode at the very least. Am I wrong? I know our software is written in unicode to support Korean, Chinese, and Japanese (Korean programming firm).
        • by arth1 (260657)

          From what I can tell, the cell phone versions that do support Asian languages are equipped with more memory than their latin-only counterparts. And a penny saved...

    • reality looks like this:

      USA 1590

      China 442

      Russia 304

      SouthKorea 201

      UK 184

      http://www.spamhaus.org/statistics/countries.lasso [spamhaus.org]

      http://www.spamhaus.org/statistics/spammers.lasso [spamhaus.org]

      no comment!

    • Re:Spam (Score:5, Interesting)

      by 1u3hr (530656) on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @12:54PM (#24846721)
      Just think of how bad text message spam would be if those tricksy Chineses were able to reach us? I imagine it's largely preventative given the amount of spam originating from that country.

      Actually most of the "Chinese" spam does not originate there. It's paid for by American spammers, to sell American products. See the ROKSO list if you have any doubts.

    • by amorsen (7485)

      Just think of how bad text message spam would be if those tricksy Chineses were able to reach us?

      The Western phone companies would love to pass on Chinese spam at a price of 10c or more per SMS...

      I doubt the spammers will find that very attractive.

  • by sakdoctor (1087155) on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @11:55AM (#24845711) Homepage

    China Telecom & China mobile are no longer actual monopolies, but still control enough of the market to be very monopolistic in nature.

    You can expect SMS interoperability...never, and the last I heard, they were pissed off with the potential of skype-like services cutting into their profits and were going after skype-out with great vengeance and furious anger.

  • Censorship (Score:2, Funny)

    by gsslay (807818)

    Wow. Don't follow international politics much, do you?

  • Shenanigans! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @11:59AM (#24845785)

    I write this from a small city in Fujian province (the south of China), and can tell you from experience that O2 and T-Mobile can also send SMS messages from the UK to my China Mobile PAYG phone here. It sounds to me like your friend has a bad phone...

    • by JediLow (831100) *
      Same here - I've gotten text messages from China. During Chinese New Year I received 3 or 4 text messages from friends that I have in Qinghai...
    • No problem sending messages from Verizon in the US to China, either. Doesn't look like Verizon even overcharged me for it, which is really out of character for them.

    • by IP_Troll (1097511)
      A bit of snooping tells me that Vodafone is the only network from which it is possible to send SMS to a Chinese registered mobile phone.

      WRONG - I have sent and received text messages from people in the PRC, I do not use Vodafone.

      I'm curious why such a large section of the world market is cut off from the west's wireless communication networks especially with the recent Olympics putting the spotlight on the nation in general.

      WRONG - It's not. Since when did SMS become "the west's wireless communicat
    • Germany - China worked just fine, too. This whole story is just FUD.

      • by afabbro (33948)

        Germany - China worked just fine, too. This whole story is just FUD.

        Uh, no it's not. It's not Fear, it's not Uncertainty, and it's not Doubt. It's not designed to scare people away from a viable product. It's wrong and it's a dumb SlashDot story, but not everything that is dumb is FUD.

    • Agreed. I've sent texts to China (from USA) just fine. I was actually pleasantly surprised it worked, particularly because it was around the time of the massive earthquake they had a few months back.

      I don't know what caused the poster to see what they saw, but Chinese government oppression was certainly not the cause in this case.
  • Conspiracy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by maxume (22995)

    I do believe it is a conspiracy by telecom companies not to spend money on something that they don't anticipate making a profit from.

  • by omkhar (167195) on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @11:59AM (#24845793)

    Not an issue in Canada. Both Rogers (China Mobile and China Unicom) and Bell (China Mobile) support sending SMS to china

    Souce

    http://www.rogers.com/web/content/wireless-text/international_txt

    http://www.bell.ca/shopping/en_CA_ON.info/VasInternationalTextMsg.details?tab=SPECS

  • it's fairly amazing that international SMS works at all. Although it's a simple protocol, there are a lot of moving parts in between it would seem.

    • by jimicus (737525)

      it's fairly amazing that international SMS works at all. Although it's a simple protocol, there are a lot of moving parts in between it would seem.

      I'll tell you why international SMS (and, for that matter, international telephony in any form) works - both in terms of roaming and in terms of making calls to international numbers.

      Money.

      There is nothing intrinsic involved in roaming which costs a lot of money - it costs the operators fractions of a penny to support a single call or transmit a single message.

      This is why roaming is so commonly available. The prices that are charged (both by the network you're roaming in to your own operator and by your op

  • by PPH (736903) on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @12:11PM (#24845981)

    Open communications and expresion is in China's future and always will be.

  • by Paul Carver (4555) on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @12:17PM (#24846091)

    I may be at a disadvantage as a native English speaker, but what the heck does "upscaling massively" mean?

    Is this some bizarrely twisted Babelfish translation of "becoming very popular"?

  • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @12:24PM (#24846189) Journal
    That one person who has trouble sending SMS to China thinks that their story is newsworthy, or that the /. editors accepted it?
    • by owlnation (858981)
      Absolutely... a total non-story. And quite typical of a UK citizen to think that because something happens there it happens everywhere. Britons need to get out more, then they might release how unique (and overpriced) their experience is for many things.

      The editors accepting this is just part of the recent decrease in quality of /. Welcome to Diggocracy! Bring on the lolcats.
      • As a UK citizen who moved to the US, I agree that Britons all ought to live overseas for a bit to see that the world doesn't revolve around Britain. But I don't think that this story is a good example of why - this is someone who thinks the world revolves around the very spot they're standing on. (And as someone who watched the NBC coverage of the Olympics - it's not just the Brits who think that the world revolves around them.)
        • by Knara (9377)

          The Universal HD (which is essentially NBC AFAIK) coverage of the Olympics was actually pretty good at being country non-specific. I mean, sure it scheduled stuff that had slightly more US contestants than everyone else, but I actually enjoyed watching a good number of events where USians weren't involved or not really in contention.

          But, of course, the network TV and basic cable stations had basically all the "standard", LCD American interest events, which tend to be boring (to me at least). I really enj

          • I don't have cable or satellite and the local NBC [nbc11.com] coverage I saw was terrible. Dominated by just a handful of events like beach volleyball and swimming, not to mention the lame "feelgood" (and probably fictional) pieces on how athletes can be world class while being good parents. In 4 years I hope to watch some of the events in person, but in 8 years time I suppose I'll have to sign up for cable/satellite/superduperwirelessvideondemandofthefuture.
    • by Trojan35 (910785)

      Slashdot has been streamlined and optimized based on user feedback and eliminated all articles from front-page news headlines.

      This provides two unique benefits:
      1) No one can copy articles in their entirety into posts.
      2) No one can correct the summary and tell the editors to RTFA.

    • by fermion (181285)
      Honestly, I think that the problem would be that there was no communication at all. This is another 'I have more money than I know what to do with and so my life is complicated issue'.

      I recall not so long ago that there were time if I wanted to talk to certain people I had to walk down the street because these certain people did not even have a phone. Now we are so used to universal communication that if we can't text from the top of kilimanjaro we think there is a conspiracy afoot.

      I live in an urban

  • by Alereon (660683) on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @12:45PM (#24846541)
    It would be cost-prohibitive for a phone company to maintain connections to every company they want to exchange SMS with. Instead, they select one of the several companies that maintain inter-carrier messaging networks to deliver this traffic for them. These companies include VeriSign [verisign.com], Syniverse [syniverse.mobi], and Sybase 365 [sybase.com]. Which carriers you can exchange SMS with depends on which of these vendors your carrier has selected. In general, while they all have two-way reach to the major carriers internationally, each vendor has a different profile of smaller international carriers and countries in their portfolio.
  • It works pretty well to send text messages to at least some Chinese mobile networks with Skype, but AFAIK the SMS option is not enabled in the Linux version yet. Of course, you can't receive any answers, and you have to be online to send, so it is not really a perfect alternative.
  • It's not just China (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Zontar_Thing_From_Ve (949321) on Tuesday September 02, 2008 @12:57PM (#24846793)
    I can speak and read Russian reasonably well and I have a few friends who live in Ukraine and Russia. I live in the USA. I can send SMS to any of my friends in Ukraine, but only some of them can send SMS back to me. I don't remember which one, but one of the two biggest mobile phone companies in Ukraine simply does not allow their customers to send SMS to the USA. The other one does allow it. Again, incoming SMS is no problem.

    In Russia, I have a friend with the opposite problem. She can send SMS to me with no problem, but I cannot send SMS to her. Basically T-Mobile (my provider) says that her company (Megafon) has problems accepting SMS from T-Mobile and they (Megafon) aren't interested in fixing it. T-Mobile says it is an issue Megafon has to fix. So the only way that I could send SMS to my friend was to use Megafon's website which allows you to send SMS via the web to their customers.

    Note that this has all been true for years and has nothing to do with the Georgia-Russia situation. Ukraine has excellent relations with the USA and nobody knows why one of their major mobile phone providers refuses to allow its customers to send SMS to the USA while the other one has no such restrictions, but that's how it is. A wise man once said "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity" or something like that.
  • A number of posters have already responded to this.

    Contrary to what some people will tell you, SMS messages are safe. They are not cached or stored anywhere. I happen to know that the BILLING for SMS messages eats up an order of magnitude more bandwidth and storage space than the messages themselves. The companies that do SMS billing run on a shoestring and can just barely handle the billing capacity. They aren't even CONSIDERING any eavesdropping because doing so would require massive SMS caches that they

  • 1 RMB for an SMS is still too expensive, when you consider that it costs nearly nothing to send an SMS.

  • by tdknox (138401)

    Currently I live in the USA and my fiancee lives in Beijing. In the USA I have Verizon Wireless as my cell phone provider, and I'm not sure what company my fiancee uses in Beijing (her cell phone starts with 86 13).

    I have no problems sending or receiving SMS messages with her at all hours of the day and night. She has never failed to receive an SMS text from me, nor I her.

    I have seen no evidence that there is a problem sending or receiving SMS to China.

    Tom

    • I have also do no have any problems using Verizon Wireless to send text message into and out of Main Land China, the city is Shen Zhen specifically.

      Skype also work excellent for voice and text messages to and from China.

      I don't think there is really any problem just some phone carriers here and maybe over there just don't have there act together.

  • I have done quite a bit of research into sending and receiving SMS to/from China in the past couple of years, partly because I lived out there until recently and mainly because needed to keep in contact with people in the UK, and now the reverse is true (so I can keep in touch with people there). As has been said in other replies this isn't down to censorship as some suggest but to do with peering agreements between networks. There are 2 major Chinese mobile networks - China Mobile (CM) and China Unicom (
  • If the phone isnt a total piece of shit, and the service isnt crap, then it has at the very least a POP email client, and enough Internet access to use it.

    Email is free - why the hell would anyone who isnt a clueless teenager whos parents are paying the bill or a complete ignoramus pay 20cents per 120-character message to use SMS?

  • by kklein (900361) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @04:38AM (#24856399)

    I live in Japan.

    I can't get SMS from people who aren't on the same carrier, let alone in another country.

    In fact, I was really surprised recently to find out that anyone could SMS people in other countries (I knew the same-carrier business was just Japan).

    This has absolutely nothing to do with "West" vs. "East." It's different companies deciding what services to offer or not. Sheesh.

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