China Unicom, the country’s second largest mobile operator, plans to increase capex this year by 19 per cent to as much as CNY50 billion ($7.9 billion) after cutting back on network investment sharply in 2017.

The operator installed 110,000 4G base stations in 2017 to take its total to 850,000, and said it aims to add a similar number this year to continue to focus on “capacity expansion and experience enhancement”. Spending on mobile infrastructure will account for 37 per cent of the total, down from 38 per cent in 2017. Last year its capex dropped 41.6 per cent year-on-year to CNY42.1 billion.

Last week the company reported a surge in profit in 2017 as service revenue and subscriber additions recovered from a weak 2016.

Meanwhile, market leader China Mobile, which announced 2017 results yesterday (22 March), will continue to reduce capex this year. Capex in 2018 is forecast to decline 6.4 per cent to CNY166 billion after falling 5.2 per cent to CNY177.5 billion in 2017. As a percentage of revenue, capex fell to 26.6 per cent in 2017 from 30 per cent in 2016.

China Mobile ended 2017 with 1.87 million 4G base stations and rolled out NB-IoT networks in 346 cities. It plans to extend NB-IoT coverage to all cities at the county-level and above in 2018.

Number three player China Telecom reports its latest earnings on 28 March.