China Unicom’s WeChat Subscription Plan is Probably a Ripoff

C. Custer
11:00 am on Jul 19, 2013


Yesterday, after continuing rumors that was about to happen, China Unicom finally announced its WeChat-specific subscription plan. The plan, as we reported yesterday, will give users unlimited access to WeChat without counting any of the app’s traffic towards their monthly data allotment (if they have a data plan at all). It’s a clever move on the part of the telecom, and one that I had previously suggested would make a lot of sense as China’s telecoms struggled to replace the revenue they’ve lost in SMS and calling fees as users switch to smartphone apps.

This particular plan might not make as much sense from a user perspective, though. China Unicom hasn’t officially announced the price, but a rumor earlier this week pegged it at around 36 RMB ($6). That may not sound like much, but as TechRice’s Kai Lukoff pointed out in our comments section yesterday, China Unicom charges just 30 RMB to add 500 MB to your data plan. WeChat may be a multimedia–heavy application, but most users are still using it mostly for text chat or walkie-talkie style conversation, which doesn’t tend to eat a lot of bandwidth. Unless users are frequently making video calls in places where they don’t have Wi-Fi access, it’s unlikely that they’re going to use that much data every month.

That means that for most users, the extra WeChat plan will actually be more expensive than simply maintaining their current data package, or adding an extra 500 MB of data to their plan to cover their monthly WeChat usage if they’re routinely going over.

So while China Unicom may attract a few heavy WeChat users and some lighter users that are drawn in by marketing gimmicks, ultimately this sort of plan doesn’t seem likely to become the kind of massive revenue stream that could replace SMS fees, for example. It is some revenue, of course, and that’s better than nothing. But I think that WeChat subscription fee will have to be a better deal for consumers before Unicom can really hope to replace the revenue from services that OTT apps like WeChat are threatening.

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  • Richard O’Connellq

    I usually do about 100 MB a month on WeChat and I’d say I’m a moderate user. 36 RMB extra is technically a rip off but I’m still saving a ton on phone calls and texts.

  • Pax Webb

    Not sure where you got the price of 500MB for 30 RMB. My plan clearly states .0003 RMB per KB over my prepaid amount. That means 0.3 RMB per MB. Multiply that by 500MB and you get 150 RMB… a lot more than 30 or 36 RMB. Adding the extra data into your monthly contract is roughly the same price but for every extra 100MB you add they throw in extra talk time. I know they have data only plans that are much cheaper for data, but those are designed to go in tablets or MIFI devices since they have no talk time included. Please correct me if I made a mistake, I would love to add an extra 500MB for 30 RMB!

  • san

    Pax that price is only when you reached your limit of your dataplan, I have 700mb national internet and added 30rmb for 500mb data for the city I live in. First it uses the 500, after that it uses the 700mb. Unless I am in another city ofcourse

  • Arman

    Can someone explain the technology behind disciphering wechat traffic from other traffic? Especially on the iPhone? How are they able to TRANSPARENTLY calculate this and not rip consumers off in a different way?

  • Pax Webb

    San, thanks for that info. I will heading to China Unicom tomorrow to try to get the same deal… 😛

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