The world’s largest wireless operator, China Mobile, has reported that it added 16.8 million subscribers between January and March this year, pushing its total subscriber base to over 600 million. The company ended 2010 with a total of 584 million subscribers, up from 493 million as of June that year.
However, although China Mobile has the largest number of 3G users compared with its rivals China Telecom and China Unicom, of the total 600 million customers just under 27 million are connected to its TD-SCDMA based 3G network. Around 50% of the quarter’s subscriber additions are in rural areas, where customers tend to generate lower average revenues per user (ARPUs). China Mobile said its ARPU fell to RMB67 (USD10.25) per month in the three months ending 31 March, from RMB76 per month at the end of the fourth quarter. The cellco has said it aims to counter this by attracting more 3G customers, and plans to invest as much as RMB132.4 billion in its network and add wireless hotspots to attract customers to smartphones, as well as expanding sales of value-added data services such as music downloads. China Mobile said 549 million customers made use of value-added services in the first three months of this year, and 476 million used its wireless music service, and that they were ‘the driving force’ of sales growth in the first quarter.
Despite a fall in ARPU, China Mobile said its net profit rose 5.4% to RMB26.9 billion in the quarter, compared to RMB25.5 billion in the same period a year earlier, and that revenue increased 8.3% to RMB118.2 billion. Average minutes of use also fell to 517 from 524 in the fourth quarter of 2010, although this has been offset by rising SMS and MMS volumes.
Meanwhile, China Unicom reported earlier this week that it had added 9.6 million subscribers in the first quarter taking its total to 320.9 million at the end of March.