According to data from PriMetrica’s GlobalComms database, 19 of the world’s largest cellcos reported subscriber growth rates in excess of 10% during the nine months ended 30 September 2003. Leading the way is China Unicom, whose customer base grew from 38.62 million at the end of 2002 to 74.92 million nine months later, equating to a growth rate of just under 94%. Much of its success has been attributed to the popularity of its CDMA network, which added a pre-paid option in April 2003. Indeed, during the third quarter of 2003 Unicom’s CDMA customer base grew by a third and now accounts for around 18% of its total base. Unicom’s principal rival, China Mobile (Hong Kong), ranked twelfth in the table with a 15% hike in customers during the same timeframe, from 117.68 million to 135 million. With a wireless penetration rate of just 16% at the start of 2003, the People’s Republic still offers huge scope for expansion. Likewise, in Russia a number of cellcos are reporting spiralling customer bases. VimpelCom managed a near 80% hike in customers over the first three quarters of 2003 to 9.26 million, placing it second in the table. VimpelCom has reported impressive growth in regions outside of Moscow and by the end of September 2003 around half of its total customer base resided outside the capital. Meanwhile competitor Mobile TeleSystems (MTS) reported a 68% jump in subscribers to 11.34 million, to take the third place. Russia has become something of a hotspot, with citizens enjoying as it does a general upturn in the economy reaping the rewards of higher disposable incomes. Another emerging market, Indonesia – which claimed a wireless penetration rate of less than 6% at the end of March 2003 – scored highly in the league table, with Telkomsel growing its base by 46% to 8.79 million.
At the opposite end of the table, GlobalComms highlighted those companies showing the slowest growth. Orange UK performed worst, adding just 71,000 customers to its base in the nine months to take its total to 13.37 million. Its closest rival, Vodafone UK, also underperformed, struggling to achieve growth of just under 2% to end the period with 13.48 million subscribers. Indeed, players in many western European markets including Italy (Telecom Italia Mobile), Germany (Vodafone D2, T-Mobile Deutschland, debitel) and Spain (Telefonica Moviles Espana), struggled to reach mid-single digit growth. Other regions were not immune, however, with parts of Asia also showing the effects of approaching saturation. Players in South Korea (KT Freetel, SK Telecom) and Taiwan (TCC) all reported customer growth of less than 5%.