China 3G subscribers double to reach 176 million

15 Aug 2012

According to new data from TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, China’s 3G subscriber base more than doubled between Q2 2011 and Q2 2012, growing from 81 million to 176 million. Already the world’s largest mobile market with over one billion wireless subscribers, the country surpassed the United States in Q1 2012 to become the globe’s largest 3G market.

China Mobile accounts for the majority of the country’s 3G subscribers, with 67 million connections. However, the incumbent has been hindered by its use of the TD-SCDMA platform — China’s W-CDMA alternative — having converted only 10% of its total mobile subscribers to 3G users since launching its network in Q2 2008. China Unicom and China Telecom Corporation have been more successful since deploying their 3G networks in Q2 2009. By the end of Q2 2012, CDMA2000 operator China Telecom had switched more than 35% of its 144 million subscribers to 3G 1xEV-DO-based services, while GSM operator China Unicom had converted more than a quarter of its subscriber base to its W-CDMA platform.

China Mobile is likely to gain a leg-up on its domestic competitors with the launch of commercial 4G TD-LTE services expected in the second half of 2012. The company is currently conducting trials in the ten cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Xiamen, Qingdao, Tianjin and Shenyang, and announced last week that further trials will be added in Ningbo, Chengdu, and Fuzhou. The operator plans to establish 20,000 4G-enabled base stations throughout the country by the end of this year, rising to 200,000 by the end of 2013 — should testing prove successful. However, the expansion of urban trials is largely dependent on the development of TD-LTE devices. NSN and Huawei both currently have compatible handsets, while ZTE is expected to launch one by the end of this year. TD-LTE modems are already widely available.

‘Despite the increased availability of 3G services, there are still more than 860 million 2G subscribers in China,’ said TeleGeography analyst Mark Gibson. ‘These unconverted subscribers present an ongoing opportunity for 3G providers. Even with the the impending launch of 4G services, the number of 3G subscribers in the country will continue to grow rapidly, reaching an estimated 667 million by 2016.’

TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database is the most complete source of data about the wireless, broadband, and fixed line telecom markets, covering over 180 countries and more than 1,500 service providers.

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