Consumers in China can now purchase smartphones with bitcoin from a major carrier, after a local division of China Telecom announced a promotional offer for new Samsung phones this week.
China Telecom's subsidiary Jiangsu Telecom, in Jiangsu province on the east coast of the country, posted the offer on its website. Translated details were scarce, but it appears customers have the chance to use bitcoin instead of yuan to pre-order Samsung's 2014 clamshell form-factor Android phone.
Bitcoin's popularity has soared higher in China than anywhere else in the world recently, with world-record prices appearing on BTC China, the country's main exchange and now the world's busiest. BTC China was leading the world in bitcoin value even in April, when prices passed $300.
“Any business newly accepting bitcoin, even in a small way, is guaranteed to gain disproportionate attention in these times.”
Any business newly accepting bitcoin, even in a small way, is guaranteed to gain disproportionate attention in these times. So on the surface, many recent stories of bitcoin acceptance from China seem more promotional than revolutionary. Indeed, this is a limited offer for one model phone from a local provider and not a major announcement of large-scale bitcoin adoption.
However, it's also a sign large state owned enterprises in China, or at least certain divisions of them, are more open to experimentation with bitcoin than their overseas counterparts.
As of this month, most bitcoin acceptance in other parts of the world remains limited to owner-operated small businesses and startups. A division of Chinese internet search giant Baidu also announced recently it would accept bitcoin as payment.
Jiangsu Telecom's offer also strikes a more positive note than previous reports from China earlier in 2013, which suggested China Telecom was trying to block bitcoin-related traffic from its services. China Telecom is China's largest fixed-line provider and its third-largest mobile carrier.
If bitcoin can be used as a promotional tool to attract younger and more technology-aware consumers, it also indicates the Chinese market itself is more ready for alternate forms of payment. Television network CCTV has run more stories on bitcoin in the wake of its recent price surge, and the more centralized digital Q coin currency proved extremely popular for online transaction in the mid 2000s.