China Telecom accelerated the migration of LTE subscribers to its new 5G network, adding 12 million next-generation users in the first quarter, taking its total to 16.6 million.

Earlier in the week, market leader China Mobile announced it doubled its 5G user base in March, adding 16.3 million subs to take its total to 31.7 million. Rival China Unicom hasn’t revealed 5G numbers.

In a statement, Ke Ruiwen, China Telecom chairman and CEO, said the operator took various measures in the January to March period to mitigate the impacts of the Covid-19 (coronvirus) epidemic by ramping efforts to maintain stable communications networks.

He noted mobile data traffic continued to grow rapidly, increasing 37.4 per cent from a year earlier, while the decline in ARPU narrowed compared with Q1 2019, without disclosing the latest figure.

The operator’s net profit for the first quarter fell 2.2 per cent year-on-year to CNY5.82 billion ($821 million), with operating revenue broadly flat, up 0.7 per cent to CNY92.14 billion.

March rebound
After losing 5.17 million overall subs in the first two months of the year due to pandemic restrictions, subs rebounded in March with 6.15 million net additions. Year-on-year its user base increased 6.9 per cent to end the quarter at 336.6 million.

Looking to the full year, Ke said the company will proactively respond to the impact of the epidemic and adapt to changes in demand by focusing on “customer and market-orientated approaches” and accelerating the joint 5G network deployment with China Unicom.

Last month, China Telecom, the second largest in China by subscribers, reported its net profit in 2019 fell 3.3 per cent year-on-year to CNY20.5 billion and mobile service revenue increased 4.7 per cent to CNY176 billion.