Mobile World Live’s Asia editor Joseph Waring looks at the top stories across Asia last week:
South Korea’s three major operators reported a mixed bag of earnings last week, but all had strong gains in LTE additions and ARPU.
SK Telecom posted an 11.8 per cent jump in its net profit for 2014 due to strong LTE subscriber growth and equity gains from SK Hynix. It added 3.7 million LTE connections. LTE subscribers now account for about 58 per cent of its 27.6 million mobile connections. ARPU rose 4.5 per cent to KRW36,100 ($33.20).
LG Uplus suffered a decline in both net income and revenue last year, as a sharp drop in handset revenue weighed down on its overall business. Its net income for the full year dropped 18.5 per cent to KRW227.7 billion ($209 million) and revenue fell 3.9 per cent to KRW10.999 trillion.
Wireless revenue increased 9.3 per cent to KRW5.2 trillion, while ARPU was up 6.3 per cent to KRW42,583 ($39) in Q4. Its LTE penetration increased to 75 per cent – up from 65 per cent a year ago as it signed up 1.4 million LTE subscribers.
KT reported a net loss last year more than 15 times higher than in 2013 due mainly to a one-off cost of a voluntary retirement programme. Its net loss expanded to KRW965.5 billion ($888 million) from a loss of KRW60.2 billion in 2013, while revenue also was down 1.6 per cent to KRW23.42 trillion.
Its wireless revenue expanded 4.8 per cent to KRW7.3 trillion and ARPU increased 9.7 per cent to KRW35,283 ($32.50). It added almost three million 4G connections, bringing its total to 10.8 million. 4G users account for 62 per cent of its 17.3 million connections, up from 42 per cent at the end of 2013.
Japan’s mobile leader and third largest operator together added 16 million 4G customers over the past year.
KDDI’s net income for the period ending 31 December expanded 30 per cent to JPY351 billion ($2.96 billion) while its operating revenue increased 5.4 per cent to JPY3.352 trillion. The company said it hit 80 per cent of its operating income target for the full fiscal year, positioning it for its second consecutive year of double-digit income growth.
It added 7.1 million 4G connections in 2014, ending the year with 16.2 million 4G connections, according to GSMA Intelligence. 4G subscribers now account for 41 per cent of its 39.4 million mobile customers, which grew 6 per cent from a year ago. ARPU inched up JPY10 to JPY4,250 from the final quarter of 2013.
NTT DoCoMo reported a 4 per cent drop in net profit in its fiscal Q3, as discounts for new mobile plans introduced in June led to a 7.5 per cent fall in mobile service revenue. Its net income fell to JPY122.9 billion, and the company is estimating a sharp decline of almost JPY200 billion in its operating income for the entire fiscal year.
The operator added almost nine million 4G customers in 2014, ending the year with 28 million 4G connections. 4G customers now account for 43 per cent of its 65 million mobile connections. ARPU fell 5.8 per cent to JPY4,340 ($36.60) in Q3 from a year ago.
In India Idea Cellular was the first to report earnings, which increased 64 per cent in its 3Q as it added 22.5 million subscribers last year – significantly more than its larger rivals. Revenue increased 21 per cent and voice minutes expanded 18 per cent. It had a 31 per cent EBITDA margin in Q3FY15.
Idea, about 20 per cent owned by Malaysia’s Axiata, has just under 148 million connections, giving it a 15.6 per cent market share. Smartphone adoption increased from 12 per cent of its user base to 17 per cent at the end of the year, according to GSMA Intelligence. ARPU increased by INR10 to INR179 in the quarter.
India’s spectrum action has been pushed back a week to 4 March to give the Department of Telecom (DoT) more time to respond to questions raised during a pre-bid meeting held two weeks ago. The cabinet last week approved the controversial 3G pricing recommended by the DoT, which is 36 per cent higher than the regulator suggested.
In Taiwan, the telecoms regulator rejected a proposal to merge Asia Pacific Telecom (APT) and Ambit Microsystems because the firms failed to provide details on a strategic alliance with Taiwan Mobile.
The rejection comes just a week after the country’s National Communications Commission said it was investigating complaints by three rivals of APT and Taiwan Mobile that the two operators’ 4G roaming agreement is illegal.
On the vendor side, ZTE launched its slimmest Blade model, which it has positioned as an “affordable, premium” 4G smartphone aimed at the mass market. The 5-inch screen Blade S6 is 7.7mm thick and weighs 132g. It has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 octa-core chipset, runs on Android 5.0 Lollipop and features time-saving gesture and motion controls.
Strong growth in LG Electronics’ mobile communications unit helped the company more than double its net profit last year and increase revenue 4 per cent to KRW59.04 trillion ($55.9 billion). It reported a 125 per cent jump in its 2014 net profit to KRW501 billion. Smartphone shipments increased 24 per cent to 59.1 million for the full year and accounted for three-quarters of its handset shipments.
LG rival Samsung said that its focus this year is on improving profitability in its struggling handset unit, as it cited some early signs of recovery at the end of 2014. The company said that compared with the previous sequential quarter, profit in its IT & Mobile Communications unit improved, despite a “slight” decline in smartphone shipments. This came through an improved product mix (with sales of the premium Galaxy Note 4 kicking in), and “efficient cost management,” particularly with regard to marketing spend.