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China Mobile is adding 11 million ‘real’ 5G users per month

China Mobile is adding 5G customers at a rate of around 11 million per month according to its latest financial report, which shows a strong performance from the telco across the board.

The world’s biggest mobile operator had 160 million 5G network customers at the end of September, up from 127 million three months earlier. It started reporting figures for 5G network customers – those that have used the 5G network in any given month and stayed on it at the end of the month – earlier this year, having previously only shared data on customers signed up to 5G plans, who may or may not actually have 5G-capable handsets and network access. These 5G package customers rose to 331 million in the three months to the end of Q3, from 251 million.

Reporting 5G network customers was the first step in helping us to count the number of actual 5G users in China, but with its rivals still not sharing that data, it remains very much guesswork. China Unicom on Thursday reported having close to 137 million 5G package subscribers at end-September, racking up 7.9 million net adds over 30 days. If its subscriber patterns are similar to those of its larger rival, around half of those are probably true 5G subscribers.

China Telecom, which is due to report on Friday, had 146.6 million 5G package customers at the end of August. Thus, a back-of-the-envelope-finger-in-the-air calculation suggests there are north of quarter of a billion true 5G subscribers in China.

Whatever the figure, indications are that 5G is proving lucrative for the Chinese telcos.

China Mobile reported monthly ARPU for mobile of CNY50.1 (US$7.8) for the first nine months of the year, an increase of 2.6% on the same period in 2020. Handset data traffic was up 39.1% in the first three quarters to 90.8 billion GB, with average handset data traffic per user per month growing to 12.3 GB from 11.9 GB in the first half.

“The Group will continue to pursue its business development strategy that integrates data access, applications and customer benefits and place a focus on scale-based and value-oriented operating practices, achieving stable and healthy growth in mobile ARPU for the full-year of 2021,” the telco pledged. We’ll check up on that next year.

Meanwhile, its financials look rosy. Operating revenue was up nearly 13% year-on-year in the first nine months to CNY648.6 billion ($101 billion), generating earnings of CNY237.5 billion, an increase of 9.5%.

Similarly, China Unicom posted 8.5% revenue growth to CNY244.5 billion, and a 19.4% hike in profit attributable to equity shareholders to almost CNY13 billion; it did not share EBITDA figures.

Both telcos are seeing growth in areas of their businesses not connected with 5G – fixed broadband and enterprise, for example – but there’s no denying that the latest generation of mobile technology is bringing in money in China.

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