Vodafone loses pole position as China Mobile’s Q2 revenues climb to USD17 billion

22 Sep 2009

As all the minor details of the second quarter are put to bed, a very interesting snippet of information emerges: Vodafone can no longer claim to be the world’s largest mobile operator by revenues. China Mobile (or more accurately the parent company China Mobile Communications Corporation) has usurped its British rival to take the top spot.

China Mobile has long been the world’s largest mobile operator in terms of mobile subscribers, having overtaken Vodafone way back in 2002. At the end of June 2009 it claimed 501 million wireless subscribers, including its operations in Hong Kong and Pakistan. That puts it way ahead of its nearest rivals, Vodafone and America Movil, which had 315 million and 190 million subscribers respectively at the same date.

Despite enjoying major growth in India and other developing markets around the world, Vodafone relies on Western Europe for the majority of its revenues, and with ARPUs in that region being almost four times as high as in China, it had – until now – been able to maintain leadership in terms of mobile revenues. Thus, Vodafone was able to claim it was the leading global “pure-play” mobile operator. While six other telcos had larger revenues than Vodafone, they all achieved this by having dominant positions in their local wireline markets in addition to having substantial wireless businesses.

Vodafone can no longer claim the number one spot. The positive impact on turnover of China Mobile’s runaway subscriber growth has now more than countered the negative impact on revenue of low ARPUs, relative to Vodafone. In Q2 China Mobile’s total consolidated group revenue surpassed Vodafone’s, and when the relatively small amounts of non-mobile revenues are extracted from both companies, China Mobile actually extends its lead.

‘Whichever way you look at it, China Mobile is now the undoubted leader of the pack,’ said TeleGeography’s John Dinsdale. ‘We expect that its leadership position will be substantially strengthened over the coming years’. According to TeleGeography forecast, while the Chinese mobile market will keep growing by 10% per annum the Western European market will only see growth of 2%. ‘The bulk of Vodafone’s revenue will continue to come from Western Europe. What is more, while China Mobile will have little trouble in continuing to dominate its home market, Vodafone is faced with ever increasing competition on all fronts’ added Dinsdale.

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