Major mobile operators in China collectively invested some CNY400 billion ($59 billion) in their nationwide 5G networks, with China Telecom and China Unicom sharply boosting capex in the first six months of 2022 to take coverage to all key towns and villages.

China Daily reported Wang Zhiqin, deputy head of the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, told the World 5G Convention in Heilongjiang province the country’s total investment in 5G networks is expected to triple to CNY1.2 trillion by 2025.

China Telecom increased capex 50.4 per cent year-on-year to CNY41.7 billion (see chart, above, click to enlarge), while China Unicom’s jumped 98.5 per cent to CNY28.4 billion. The two added 180,000 shared 5G base stations to take the count to 870,000, with plans deploy another 120,000 sites in H2.

The operators also added 90,000 5G distributed antenna systems, bringing the total number deployed to 200,000.

Market leader China Mobile, which ended June with 1 million 5G base stations, allocated CNY110 billion to 5G projects for 2022, targeting 1.2 million sites. Its total capex this year is forecast to remain at CNY185 billion.

In a statement, China Unicom highlighted capex saving of CNY25.5 billion in the year to end-June from the joint deployment with China Telecom. The cumulative savings from network sharing reached CNY240 billion.

Earnings impact
All three registered steady-to-strong profit and mobile revenue growth despite ARPU remaining flat.

China Unicom was the only one to reveal 5G ARPU, which fell 8.1 per cent year-on-year to CNY52.70.

Their combined profit reached nearly CNY100 billion.

China Mobile and China Telecom recorded strong product sales growth of 39.8 per cent and 33 per cent, respectively, while China Unicom’s dipped 1.4 per cent

The operators booked rapid adoption of 5G services, adding 432 million package customers to end June with 928 million, or 55.4 per cent of their total user count.

Looking to the second half, China Mobile aims to sign up another 130 million and China Telecom is targeting 80 million, gains which would take China’s 5G service users to more than 1.1 billion.

Despite the lack of ARPU growth and continued high network investments, the big three seem to have little trouble generating fat profits from delivering high-speed service to 1.7 billion customers.