Mobile Phone Mega-Market in Shenzhen

One thing that’s true about the technology markets in China is that the more you learn about it, the less you find you know. Liam Casey, “Mr. China” himself, and the CEO of PCH, came in and said exactly that our first day on the tour. I had a first-hand experience with that while I was acting as a tour guide of the SEG market in Shenzhen. I knew that the SEG market was big, and that it had a lot of stuff, but somehow I managed to miss the massive mobile phone market for the two years that I had been shopping there. A friend of mine in PCH tipped me off to the market, so at the end of the walking tour of the main market that I was familiar with, we decided to head out and try to find something that none of us, including me had previously seen.

My eyes fell out of my head when I saw it.

Imagine a market, the acreage of two gymnasiums, but four stories tall, packed with nothing but … mobile phone bits and pieces (and finished phones too). It’s impossible to find a single photo that communicates the sheer scale of this market — above is just a flavor of a tiny corner of the area. You hear numbers like 500 million phones being made in China per year, but you don’t actually get to feel it until you walk this market. There is literally everything in there to make phones, from blank PCBs, to intermediate assemblies, to shells, testing equipment, raw chips, batteries, LCDs, broken down parts, you name it.

(The mirrored sign above reads: “Jenny’s LCD and Spare Parts”. I wish I could find a mall in the US with that very store in it. That would be so handy, at least for me).

And the most interesting part about the market is not that these components were for sale — it was the amount of actual (re)manufacturing being done right in the market. It was hard to walk more than twenty feet without seeing a booth crammed cheek to jowel with soldering irons, power supplies and people either disassembling or assembling phones. There’s a similar spot across from the main market that specializes in laptop remanufacturing, but the scale and throughput is much smaller than what I saw in the mobile phone market.

The other crazy thing about the mobile phone market is that it’s not the only one. Windell said he found another market just as big but with a greater focus on finished phones, and then just today I walked into what looked like the New York Stock Exchange of mobile phones. This last find was really fascinating; there is a spot in the heart of the market where you have chain smoking traders sitting in booths piled high with finished mobile phones in plastic sleeves ready for sale on the gray market. It’s so packed and frenzied that from across the building when I looked over in that area I thought maybe a small disaster had occurred and people were gathering around to watch it. Each trading booth had a price list sitting in front; it’s the only place in China where I’ve seen a written price for a phone (but presumably you haggled over prices anyways). People were scampering around the the exchange, carrying sleeves of five, ten, twenty mobile phones. I probably saw at least a few hundred phones move through the exchange in the few minutes that it took me to walk a corner of it; I imagine thousands, if not tens of thousands, of phones move through that exchange in one day. Near that area are dozens of booths selling batteries for these phones … and the best part about these battery booths is that there is a girl sitting in each with raw lithium ion batteries and a pile of Nokia stickers, and she is literally building the fake batteries right before your eyes. She even has the holographic Nokia authenticity stamp; the finished batteries look exactly like the real thing. I asked one of them to sell me a sheet of the holo-stamps, but she wanted 1 USD per stamp because “they were of a high grade” or “the real thing” (I couldn’t quite understand the chinese words she used). I was trying to argue her down on price and apparently if I didn’t want to pay her price I could find a lower grade of stamp in other booths for less but she would not carry such shoddy merchandise in her booth. Ironic.

(All photos in this post are copyright Tom Igoe, posted with his permission)

47 Responses to “Mobile Phone Mega-Market in Shenzhen”

  1. Mike Wilson says:

    If it weren’t for the language barrier I’d have serious trouble fighting the temptation to hop on a plane. That looks amazing.

  2. Aris says:

    Eyes… I only do eyes….

  3. Trell says:

    Sad. What you are looking at is theft on a massive scale. This is just one of the reasons why western civilization as we know it is in danger.

    • jordan says:

      A majority of the product is illegal-copies, OEM defects from the manufacturers, and pulled parts from scrap that the OEM/Carrier return companies send to China to be recycled.

  4. Robert Boerner says:


    Nice Blade Runner quote…

  5. XuYu says:

    Bigger than the 4th Floor of MBK shopping center in Bangkok? WOW!

  6. KISS says:

    Hi, Bunnie

    I am your blog reader at shenzhen.

    Do you guys visit IIC(, which is opening today. Almost all of china semiconductor companies attend this event.
    Maybe it’s a good place to know more about China :-)

    If there is anything I can do for you guys, drop me a mail

    p.s: I am a reader of your book “Hacking Xbox”

  7. Aris says:

    Sorry – I couldn’t resist the BR quote – this whole story reminded me of that scene from the film :-)

  8. bunnie says:

    Loved the quote. :-)

  9. Aris says:

    Isn’t it just scary how science fiction is becoming science fact – or even social fact. Just now we’ll all be moving Offworld.

  10. […] Mobile Phone Mega-Market in Shenzhen […]

  11. […] 8 Marzo 2009 Bunnie visitó el mercado de teléfonos móviles en China… Algo que es muy cierto acerca de los mercados de tecnología en China es que entre más aprendes de ellos, te das cuenta que sabes menos. Liam Casey, el mismo “Mr. China” CEO de PCH nos lo dijo con las mismas palabras el primer dia de nuestro tour. Tuve una primera experiencia con eso cuando estuve de guía de un tour en el mercado SEG en Shenzhen. Yo sabía que el mercado SEG era grande, y que tenía una infinidad de artículos, pero de alguna manera perdí noción durante mis dos años de compras del mercado masivo de moviles que existe. Uno de mis amigos en PCH me dio el recorrido superficial del mercado, de tal manera que al final de la caminata por la parte que ya conocía decidimos ir a explorar algo que nadie de nosotros incluyendome, jamás habiamos visto. […]

  12. davod rakhsh says:

    hi .please send for me price for nokia lcd model:3250-n73 -n95-n82-5610-6300-n70-3110 and sonyericson:k750-k550-k770-p910-p990-p1-w810

  13. quote “Sad. What you are looking at is theft on a massive scale. This is just one of the reasons why western civilization as we know it is in danger.”

    I’m not to sure what you mean the fact that phone parts made in China are sold at perhaps 1/10 of the price In the west and you being robbed by the western corporation buying from the same source, or you say the person earning and living on $150 per month is robbing you.
    My feeling is if the company builds a factory. Hires fires and pays the employees with company money and builds a reasonable amount of the phone parts in house then it is a genuine part but finding the lowest bidder or country is no more than selling fake parts them self. Genuine Phones are not much cheaper in China due to the lack of kickback on calls and most Chinese will if buying a phone will buy genuine anyway or try.
    I know in China I will pay more than the locals on the side street but I also get back to the west or stay in a western brand hotel in China and pay 5 times as much and think the guy with the small scales could not rob me that much. I also see on the bus people hand money from one person to the next all the way down to the driver and the change come back on a crowed bus.

  14. moses says:

    where in shenzhen is this market i would like to go and see.
    does anyone konw where it is please advise via e mail
    e mail

  15. Just another NIGGER says:

    Well mr wiseguy! SZ SEG market is not only a mobile phone market. I been there so many times and the right name is ShenZhen Electronic Group. Electronics that is. Not only for phones. But your probably white ignorant guy right?

    This is the biggest computer fair in the world. Yes it is a fair but its open year round.

    I just hate you white ass guys.

  16. Wesley says:

    Components are made by different facotories and sold by different merchants.

    The question is how they can be put together into a final moblie phone or GPS or whatever?

    There must be an unspoken “industry” protocol there. Who set, agree, and follow the protocol?

    Populairty or market share of the product set the rule. Therefore, don’t expect that you can find anything there. No one copy or sell unpopular products.

    The market can be used as a measurement to see if your products really sell.

  17. phoneinchina says:

    thanks for the clarification. I like your post.About china iphone.

  18. Bob says:

    Wow- I had no idea there was such a place. Speaking of cell phones, not many know there is a very new way to capitalize on that huge market.

    Here’s an ad and website about that-

  19. Jimmy says:

    Found this site which is also based in Shenzhen selling China wholesale electronics products and mobile phones similar to the SEG market.

  20. Fuzu says:

    Ooh dang i just wrote a long comment and as soon as i hit post it come up blank! Please please tell me it worked properly? I do not want to write it again if i dont have to! Either the blog glitced out or i am an idiot, the second option doesnt surprise me lol.

  21. dane j. cook says:

    Good Morning just thought i would let you know that i had a problem with this blog appearing blank also. Must be gremlins in the page.

  22. max says:

    What is the reason for these big Western cellphone manufacturing companies to find it difficult to compete with features of Chinese Phones? I have a very nice stable phone from Sakhumzantsi and wish I could get a 3G phone with similar features.

  23. This is interesting! How did you learn about this when you were a newcomer to it?

  24. TRZN says:

    OMG! That would be freaking amazing to be there! I’ve been to depots but damn, that’s alotta phone ware. Vacation time!

  25. Deee says:

    where is the market? i am going sz to look at mobile phone

  26. Hebe-mobile exporter says:

    From the comments,i think i can help you to find the mobile phone market,
    If you want ,please contact me or email me

    Tel :15118112843


  27. Kym Brake says:

    I found your blog searching google for phones sites and came across your site.

  28. alavmc says:

    where is this market in shenzhen
    i want know this market address ( full title )

  29. Intriguing website. My co-workers and I have been just discussing this another evening. Also your web page seems to be superb on my old sidekick. Now thats uncommon. Nice work.

  30. When buying Cellphone Batteries make sure that you are not getting those chinese fakes and knockoffs.,::

  31. James Garcia says:

    sometimes it i have a hard time selecting which mobile phone to buy. there are too many options to choose from.*;*

  32. Vella says:

    Shenzhen is located on the border with the Hong Kong; this is really the place where any business are mostly on the streets and its affordable though. I like to visit here as always.

  33. David says:

    I am myself a mobile phone manufacturer and wholesaler in Shenzhen.
    I can show you around the shenzhen mobile phone market when you are in China.

    Let me know if you are really interested.

    You can reach me at:



  34. Babak says:

    Shenzhen market or Hong KOng which one is better for buying mobile phones?
    Is that possible to find Authentic and 100% original mobile phones there?

  35. the best mobile phones should have high resolution cameras and some netbook functionality~””

  36. mobile phones are getting cheaper and cheaper, i just hope that they add more features into it-*`

  37. the mobile phones that we are using today would become more and more powerful and feature packed””*

  38. Jancuk Johnson says:

    It sounds fantastic in theory, but has anyone actually bought a product from this market? And if so, how did work?

  39. Could you explain more about the second paragraph.

  40. Pottie says:

    Go for it China Manufacturers of mobile phones.
    All name brand phones are made in China and sold to the world at inflated prices.
    Supply them without the brand name to the public and all is happy,from the person on the factory floor right through to the buyer.
    I am happy with my copy phones N97,X6,X10i,E71 and E72.
    Other phone Sonyericsson Satio.Samsung J700.SGHi900 Omnia,Nokia 6303i classic,and a few others.
    I collect phones as a hobby.
    Any one out there to send me some unused phones,even 2nd hand,will be much appreciated.