China’s 4G user base hit 201 million at the end of May, up by 100 million from the end of 2014, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).
China Mobile added 80 million 4G connections in the first five months of the year, taking its total to 170 million. China Telecom’s 4G connections more than doubled to 18 million during the period, while China Unicom’s increased from four million in Q4 to an estimated 13 million.
As the China market nears saturation, subscriber growth has slowed for both China Mobile (1.2 per cent) and China Telecom (2.7 per cent), but China Unicom suffered a sharp decrease in total connections, with its mobile connections falling to 290 million after peaking at 299 million in Q4. China Mobile had 816 million connections at the end of May, while China Telecom had 191 million.
The majority of the 4G subscribers for all three operators are 3G customers migrating to the faster technology.
China Mobile is continuing to invest aggressively in its 4G network, allocating CNY72.2 billion ($11.8 billion) this year and aiming to have one million 4G base stations this year. It deployed 740,000 last year.
But the number 2 and 3 players should be able to gain some momentum this year now that the government has set up China Tower, a joint venture that is scheduled to take control of almost one million towers owned by China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom in August.
The increased coverage the tower company will enable, particularly in rural areas, coupled with China Telecom and China Unicom being awarded nationwide FDD-LTE licences in February by the MIIT, will help counterbalance the dominant power of China Mobile, C114.net said.
With the government putting pressure on all three operators to boost mobile broadband speeds and reduce prices, and overall subscriber growth slowing, analysts expect 2015 to be a difficult year.