A network sharing arrangement between China Unicom and China Telecom – the country’s second and third largest mobile operators respectively – led to a 16 per cent decline in LTE capex during 2016 compared with 2015, according to IHS Markit.

However, IHS noted the combined number of LTE base stations deployed by all three Chinese operators in 2016 was just over 1 million, which was the same as in 2015. The country’s overall mobile infrastructure market – covering 2G, 3G and 4G gear – fell 9 per cent year-on-year in 2016 to $12 billion, with 4G accounting for $10 billion.

The Chinese mobile infrastructure macro hardware market is forecast to decline at an average annual rate of 34 per cent from 2016 to 2021.

Stephane Teral, senior research director at IHS Markit, said: “We expect the mobile infrastructure macro hardware market in China to continue to go south, with a double-digit decline anticipated in 2017 due to the end of massive LTE rollouts. In the long run, we forecast the Chinese RAN and packet core infrastructure market to slow down further to $2 billion in 2021 – a 34 per cent annual decline.”

China, the world’s largest mobile market with 1.3 billion subscribers, saw its LTE penetration jump from 32 per cent in 2015 to 58 per cent in 2016. China Mobile’s GSM/TD-SCDMA/LTE network accounts for 64 per cent of total connections.

China Unicom, the country’s second largest mobile operator, said in November it saved more than CNY2 billion ($299 million) in capex in 2016 through its cooperation with rival China Telecom to jointly construct and share network resources.