China’s 3G battle rages on

21 Feb 2012

China Mobile ended December 2011 with the largest customer base in China, having signed up 649.568 million subscribers by that date, up from 584.017 million at the end of the previous year. The proportion of customers using its 3G networks more than doubled over the twelve-month period, from 20.702 million to 51.212 million. The country’s second largest operator by subscribers, China Unicom, has made use of its monopoly on offering Apple devices to such an that extent that over the last year it has tripled its 3G customer base, narrowing the gap between itself and China Mobile. At the end of December 2010 Unicom recorded 14.060 million 3G subscribers, but one year on the cellco claimed to have grown that number to 40.019 million, representing an increase of 184.6% and accounting for 20% of its 199.660 million end-year customer total. China Telecom meanwhile, reported 126.47 million wireless subscribers at the end of 2011, of which 36.39 million had signed up to 3G data plans. Telecom is poised to steal a march on its rivals in coming months, however, with plans to break Unicom’s monopoly of the popular Apple devices in early March with the release of a CDMA-enabled iPhone. China’s 3G market remained extremely competitive at the end of 2011, with just 14.922 million subscribers separating the top and bottom positions, compared to the 523.098 million difference seen in the 2G market. The situation seems set to continue, with all three providers reporting similar net additions for the first month of 2012. Unicom reported 3.05 million new 3G subscribers in January, whilst Mobile and Telecom recorded net additions of 2.73 million and 2.41 million respectively.