China Mobile forges ahead to 4G dominance


World’s biggest mobile operator confirms 4G customer numbers; China will become biggest 4G market this year, overtaking U.S.

China Mobile on Wednesday confirmed that its 4G customer base comfortably exceeded 100 million at the end of January, while analysts predicted that its growth trajectory will see China overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest 4G market during the course of this year.

The world’s biggest mobile operator had signed up 106.8 million 4G customers as of the end of last month, just over 13 months after it launched its TD-LTE service. It added 16.7 million 4G customers in January alone.

China Mobile’s big 4G push will be instrumental in enabling China to overtake the U.S. on the global 4G stage, according to new predictions from GSMA Intelligence.

At the end of 2014 the U.S. was the largest market with 148 million LTE connections. “However, at current growth rates we expect China’s LTE base to treble to 300 million by the end of 2015, comfortably overtaking the U.S.,” GSMA Intelligence said in a statement.

Those numbers might prove conservative. Earlier this week the Shanghai Daily reported that China Mobile aims to add 250 million 4G connections to its network in 2015 and plans to roll out a further 300,000 TD-LTE base stations.

Furthermore, the telco’s domestic rivals are also gearing up for full 4G launches, with some reports saying they could get the go-ahead later this week.

China Unicom and China Telecom are waiting for licences to roll out the FDD variant of LTE. They have trial FDD/TDD networks in place in major cities, having been granted permits last summer.

The delay in obtaining full licences has enabled China Mobile to get a sizeable head start in the 4G market and has proved costly to its smaller competitors. China Telecom suffered hefty customer losses in the first half of 2014 and despite a turnaround in the second half still only succeeded in recording around 400,000 net customer additions for the year.

In January it added 1.05 million customers, taking its total base to 186.7 million.

Meanwhile, second-placed China Unicom added 83,000 customers last month, leaving its subs base just shy of 300 million.

China Mobile, by contrast, added a net 1.9 million subscribers, giving it a base of 808.6 million.

In total, China had 1.29 billion mobile customers at the end of January.