China’s fourth mobile operator goes live

China’s fourth mobile operator has launched services, breaking into a market that has long been the domain of the big three.

But it’s far too early to get excited about the prospect of additional competition in the Chinese mobile market; China Broadnet, as it is now known, is a minnow without its own network, and realistically will not give its longer-established rivals, all large-scale operators in their own right, much to worry about for some time.

The Chinese press is awash with the news that China Broadnet’s website has gone live and it is open for business, offering lower-cost 4G and 5G packages for consumers. That does indeed seem to be the case:

The launch comes three weeks after the firm adopted its current name and opened up a phone number registration service. As one English language news service, China Reporter, noted at the time, China Broadnet was offering customers the chance to reserve an easy-to-remember or widely liked number, but these came with two-year contracts, a minimum monthly fee, and an advance payment ranging from a few hundred yuan to several thousand (CNY1,000 = US$150).

The news outlet also reported on China Broadnet’s rebranding ceremony in Beijing, at which it shed its previous moniker, China Radio and Television.

The company apparently picked up its operating licence some time ago – three years, according to China Reporter – so clearly it has not been a quick route to market. That’s not because of the demands of network rollout though; the telco does not have its own infrastructure, but has brokered a network-sharing deal with market leader China Mobile.

That could suggest that China Broadnet will hit the ground running as a credible competitor, with cheaper plans and extensive network reach. But you only have to look at the scale of the Chinese market to realise that while there is plenty of potential there, playing catch-up with the big guns will not be easy.

China Mobile’s latest published figures show it had a staggering 966.6 million mobile customers as of the end of May, with monthly net additions coming in at 202,000. China Broadnet would be going some to even make a dent in that customer base.

Incidentally, the world’s biggest mobile operator also reported having the best part of half a billion 5G package customers – 495.1 million, to be exact. While that is not the same as the number of customers actually connecting to the 5G network – the telco will doubtless share that figure in its next quarterly update – it’s still a remarkable number.

At the same date, China Telecom claimed 381.2 million mobile customers, 224.5 million of which had a 5G plan. However, China Unicom does not split out its mobile customers; it claimed 795.5 million ‘big connectivity’ customers at the end of May, which also includes fixed broadband, fixed-line, IoT connections and so forth. That makes it difficult to measure the overall Chinese mobile market, but with China Mobile and China Telecom together serving over 1.3 billion mobile customers, we’re talking somewhere around the 1.8 billion mark.

Essentially, there are lots of customers for China Broadnet to target, but it cannot hope to attain that level of scale.


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