As Chinese consumers increasingly embrace mobile data, the market grew by over 11% last year, to 1.223 billion users, while 3G subscribers were up by almost 79% in the same period, to 417.3 million – getting on for one-third of the total. This indicates a sharp uptick in the rate of 3G adoption in 2013, after a slow start, and during this year, 4G will be following hard on its heels.
The advent of LTE will be important for the largest cellco, China Mobile, because it has a head-start over its two rivals, having now received the commercial licence required to turn its huge “trial” network in key cities like Shanghai into full-blown services.
This should help it reverse the erosion of its market lead, which it has suffered throughout the 3G era, largely because it was forced to use the homegrown TD-SCDMA technology, with its limited device ecosystem and performance challenges, while China Unicom deployed W-CDMA and China Telecom CDMA2000.
According to figures released by the three operators, Mobile still had over 62% of the total mobile user base as of the end of 2013, though that figure was down from 64% at the end of 2012. However, its aggressive campaign to get device vendors to support its 3G network, and its intense program of network improvement, have started to deliver results – its 3G market share rose from 37.7% in 2012 to almost 46%. The cellco ended the year with 767.2 million customers, of which 191.6 million, or 25%, were on 3G
China Telecom, though the smallest of the trio, has been most effective in 3G, with an early focus on high margin business users and devices. It ended 2013 with 103.1 million 3G subscribers in a total base of 185.6 million (55% on CDMA2000), giving it almost 25% of the 3G base compared to 15% of the overall mobile market. However, its 3G share is significantly lower than at the end of 2012, when it had 29.6%, thanks to Mobile‟s belated progress.
China Unicom reported 122.6 million 3G customers, 44% of its total base of 280.9 8 million. Like Telecom, its overall market share was up a little on 2012, from 21.6% to 22.8%, but its 3G share fell under pressure from its largest rival, slipping from 32.8% to 29.4%.