China Telecom has reported rapid growth in subscribers to its personal access system (PAS) during 2002, ending the year with around 3.2 million users, more than double the 1.4 million it recorded twelve months earlier. PAS is becoming one of the fastest growing segments of the Chinese telecoms industry and is widely tipped to be a primary growth driver in the future. According to major PAS equipment supplier UTStarcom, China was home to around twelve million PAS customers at the end of 2002, a figure which although some way shy of the country’s 200 million plus wireless customers is expected to double to 25 million by the end of this year. The system, which supports limited mobility services via the PSTN, is cheaper to install than traditional mobile infrastructure and more lucrative than land line offerings; analysts claim that on average it takes over three and a half years to recoup the cost of connecting a fixed line subscriber, but less than half that time for a PAS user. The service suffers from limited capacity though, particularly in densely populated metropolitan areas, and does not have the roaming capabilities of cellular telephony.
PAS is offered by both China Telecom and fixed line rival China Netcom, which, in the absence of traditional mobile licences, have focused much of their attention on the system in the past two years, investing over USD1.5 billion. Last month alone the firms are believed to have inked USD400 million worth of deals which will boost capacity by five million lines. This bodes well for the future of the technology, particularly since the government is remaining tight-lipped as to whether China’s fixed line giants will be granted full mobile concessions.