China’s biggest mobile operator in terms of subscribers, China Mobile (Hong Kong), has revealed plans to purchase the ten provincial networks that it does not already own – in the poorer regions of Mongolia, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Giuzhou, Yunnan, Tibet, Gansu, Qinghai, Ningxia and Xinjiang – from its parent China Mobile Communications Corp (CMCC). The move is the last in a series of asset transfers from CMCC to CMHK, which have been an easy way for the latter to expand; it will have to find ways of growing organically in the future. The cellco is expected to pay between USD2.5 billion and USD5 billion in cash for the ten networks, which will, on completion, give it a market share of 69% and a total customer base of around 175 million.
CMHK’s main competitor in the mobile market is China Unicom, although with the new acquisitions it looks likely to hold on to its number one spot for many years to come. The government has announced that new players are looking to enter the market in the future, however. When the government reorganised the fixed line market in mid-2002 it indicated that China Telecom (including its new listed subsidiary China Telecom Corp) and China Netcom would be awarded cellular licences in a bid to bring further competition to the mobile market; the regulator the MII has not yet given an indication as to when the fixed line giants are likely to receive their concessions. China is the world’s largest mobile market with 250,210 million users at the end of September 2003.