China Telecom recorded strong mobile revenue growth in 2019, as continued increases in subscriber numbers and data usage combatted a double-digit drop in 4G ARPU.

Net profit fell 3.3 per cent year-on-year to CNY20.5 billion ($2.89 billion), thought the company said the figure was 2 per cent higher when excluding a one-off after-tax gain from the listing of China Tower in 2018.

Operating revenue dipped marginally to CNY376 billion as a 4.7 per cent increase in mobile service revenue to CNY176 billion was offset by a 32.1 per cent drop in equipment sales to CNY18.1 billion.

Data revenue grew 8.7 per cent to CNY148 billion, while voice fell 14 per cent to CNY26.7 billion.

Its mobile subscriber base increased 10.7 per cent to 335.6 million, with LTE users accounting for 83.8 per cent. ARPU from 4G customers fell 11.3 per cent to CNY49.50. Average monthly data usage rose 43.6 per cent to 7.9GB.

In a statement, Ke Ruiwen, chairman and CEO, said the company capitalised on the opportunities stemming from the digital transformation of the economy and commercialisation of 5G, noting its R&D expenses increased 57 per cent to CNY2.1 billion.

He added a joint 5G rollout with China Unicom significantly enhanced its network competitiveness.

At the end of 2019, China Telecom had deployed 40,000 5G base stations and shared more than 20,000 sites with its network partner, covering key areas of more than 50 cities. Both companies target having around 300,000 compatible base stations in use by end-2020.

China Telecom’s capex budget of CNY85 billion for 2020 is 9.6 per cent higher than 2019, with 53 per cent of the total allocated for 5G, up from 11.9 per cent.

The operator recently released 5G subscriber numbers for the first time, showing 10.7 million at end-February, as it targets at least 60 million by the close of the year. ARPU from next-generation users is CNY91.90 per month.

China Telecom also appointed Li Zhengmao as president and COO, titles which were previously held by Ke.