The accelerating rollout of 3G in China has led to soaring sales at the country’s three main mobile operators, propelling them up the board in the latest Wireless Intelligence operator ranking study.
The new study ranks operator groups based on Q4 2011 mobile revenue, counting all subsidiaries in which the group has a majority economic ownership (e.g. a minimum of 50% plus one share).
The Chinese market-leader, China Mobile, strengthened its lead as the world’s largest operator in terms of revenue, growing quarterly sales by almost 14 percent year-on-year to US$22.7 billion in Q4, up from US$19.9 billion a year ago when the ranking study was last conducted.
Revenue growth was even more impressive at China Mobile’s two domestic rivals: China Unicom increased sales by 31 percent to US$4.3 billion, lifting it one place in the operator ranking to #15; China Telecom rose eight places to enter the top 20 for the first time at #19, growing sales by 56 percent to US$2.9 billion over the period.
The three Chinese operators began rolling out 3G in 2009; following a relatively slow start, uptake of 3G devices and services ramped up during 2011. According to an earlier Wireless Intelligence study, the number of 3G connections in China surpassed 200 million in Q4 2011 and accounted for 22 percent of the country’s total at year-end. 3G accounted for over 75 percent of new connections in the country in the quarter; Chinese 3G net additions in Q4 2011 were 27.4 million out of a total 36.2 million.
Unicom reported that full-year 3G service revenue in 2011 rose 182.3 percent year-on-year to CNY32.74 billion (US$5.2 billion), accounting for 31.7 percent of the operator’s total mobile service sales.
Elsewhere, the ranking study reaffirmed the strength of markets such as US and Japan. US market-leader Verizon Wireless overtook Vodafone Group to become the world’s second-largest global operator in terms of revenue with sales rising 6 percent to US$15.1 billion. Vodafone slipped to #3 as sales declined 3 percent from a year ago (Vodafone’s 45 percent stake in Verizon Wireless is not counted). AT&T, the US number-two, was ranked at #4 and third-placed Sprint at #10. The Japanese operators also scored highly with NTT DOCOMO at #6, KDDI at #11 and SoftBank Mobile rising one position to #12.
By contrast, many operator groups with a strong presence in Europe recorded year-on-year revenue declines, a consequence of market saturation, fierce price competition and a slowdown in consumer spending due to the eurozone’s economic crisis. This was the case to some extent for revenue declines at Vodafone (#3), Telefonica (#5), Deutsche Telekom (#7), France Telecom (#8) and Telecom Italia (#13).
Meanwhile, VimpelCom’s completion of its US$6 billion acquisition of Wind Telecom last summer established the enlarged entity as the world’s sixth-largest operator group with over 200 million connections at year-end. In terms of its ranking by revenue, the acquisition saw VimpelCom rise seven places from a year ago to #14.
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