October 21, 2020
China Mobile sailed passed the 100 million 5G subscriber mark during Q3, reaching 114 million as of September 30.
That's a 44 million increase – roughly the population size of Spain – compared with three months previously.
Figure 1: Slight of hand: China Mobile's growth in subs includes 4G customers on 5G plans.
Despite what seems impressive growth, China's largest mobile operator posted a decline in mobile ARPU (which mounts up when the total subscriber base is just shy of 950 million).
ARPU during the nine months to September 30 was 48.9 yuan (US$7.30), down 2.6% year-on-year, although the ARPU ship may well be steadying.
During the six months to June 30, ARPU was RMB50.3 ($7.60), which translates into a more modest quarter-on-quarter decline of 0.8%.
The reported galloping growth in 5G subs is not quite what it seems, however. Like China Telecom, China Mobile talks about "5G package customers," which counts 4G customers on 5G plans. Third player China Unicom does not yet give a breakout of 5G subs from its mobile subscriber base.
As of September 30, China Mobile had 946 million subscribers (down 1 million from three months previously), of which 770 million were 4G. The 4G base, reflecting some migration to 5G, shrank by 10 million during Q3.
Steady as she goes (pretty much)
China Mobile's financials for the nine months to September 2020 (it did not provide a quarterly breakdown) were fairly flat compared with the same period last year, although EBITDA was down 3.8%, to RMB216.9 billion ($32.6 billion).
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China Mobile gave no explicit reason for the drop, although increased network expenditure on 5G and coping with more traffic – handset data traffic increased by a hefty 35%, year-on-year, to 65.3 billion GB – inevitably increases financial strain.
Operating revenue was up 1.4%, to RMB574.4 billion ($86.3 billion), and profit to equity shareholders fell slightly by 0.3%, to RMB81.6 billion ($12.3 billion).
China Mobile said it will "maintain stable profit" for full-year 2020.
— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading
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