December 22, 2020
China has cruised past the 200 million mark in official 5G subscribers, with China Mobile adding nearly 19 million last month.
"Package subscribers" is a unique category that includes those that have migrated to 5G but are still using 4G phones, overstating the actual 5G user numbers.
China Mobile is racking up 5G subs at quite a clip, with 18.6 million adds last month and 15.2 million in October. China Telecom added more than 7 million every month since August.
Some energetic price-cutting has helped. At launch time in November 2019 the lowest package price was 128 yuan ($19.57). Now many plans are being sold at 100 yuan ($15.29) or less.
But while low, it is still a step up from 4G. China Mobile's mobile ARPU last year was just 49 yuan.
Timing is everything
The 5G growth spurt couldn't have come at a better time for the China telcos. The market has hit the wall in terms of topline subscriber growth.
The third telco, China Unicom, has suffered a net loss of 11.4 million subs for the year to date. It had 307.1 million mobile customers at November 30, down 1.9 million on the previous month.
China Mobile also is down for the year, losing 2.6 million customers, while only China Telecom has had a net gain – at just 670,000, it's no more than a rounding error.
Multiple factors are at play here, like market saturation and the end of China's demographic dividend.
The introduction of mobile number portability a year ago has probably also help China Telecom bleed customers from Mobile and Unicom.
Additionally, it may a consequence of the coronavirus lockdowns, leading to people traveling less and therefore needing fewer SIM cards as they roam into other provinces.
In good standing
Meanwhile, the three operators are marching towards 5G standalone. For once Unicom and Telecom are the frontrunners.
China Telecom says its 5G standalone network is commercially available in more than 300 cities, according to Sohu.
Want to know more about 5G? Check out our dedicated 5G content channel here on
Miao Shouye, the head of Unicom's 5G co-construction project with China Telecom, says Unicom launched the world's first commercial slicing service in Beijing and Guangdong in November.
He told a conference earlier this month it will be commercially available nationwide next year, C114 reported.
China Mobile hasn't given a timetable for standalone deployment or services, although executives have promised they are building a "premium" SA network.
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading
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