Asian carriers show the world how to do 5G

Anne Morris
By Anne Morris

Aug 13, 2021

via Flickr © Kohei Fujii (CC BY-SA 2.0)

via Flickr © Kohei Fujii (CC BY-SA 2.0)

  • China Mobile says it has 251m 5G subscribers
  • China Telecom sees much higher ARPU from 5G
  • KT and SKT now have almost 13m 5G subscribers combined

This week has brought a flurry of second-quarter (Q2) results from leading Asian carriers, which also continue to show the world how to do it when picking up 5G subscribers. As already noted, Juniper Research believes over 60% of global 5G connections will be located in the Asia Pacific region by 2026. By that point, it said total 5G connections are expected to reach 3.2 billion globally, up from 310 million in 2021, driven by lower subscription costs from carriers in China, Japan and South Korea.

China Mobile was the last of a quartet to reveal strong growth in 5G subscriber numbers this year, and even helpfully provided a breakdown of how many customers subscribed to 5G packages, and how many were actually on the 5G network. 

The Chinese mobile behemoth said it now has a total of 251 million ‘5G package’ and 127 million ‘5G network’ customers — numbers that other carriers can of course only dream about given China’s vast population. In the same period last year, China Mobile reported just 70 million 5G package customers. The carrier also said it had built a total of 501,000 5G base stations by the end of June. 

5G is clearly becoming dominant among new additions, since overall mobile subscribers were broadly unchanged at 947 million. Notably, mobile average revenue per user (ARPU) per month reached 52.2 yuan, an increase of 3.8% year-on-year that also reversed the downward trajectory seen since 2018. China Mobile said 5G ARPU was 88.90 yuan.

China Mobile’s figures came hot on the heels of close rival China Telecom, which reported 44.65 million additional new 5G customers in the first half of 2021. The operator said its 5G customer base now stands at 131.15 million, out of 362.49 million customers in total. Notably, 5G subscriber growth is now far outstripping 4G, with just 11.47 million net additions of other mobile subscribers in H1. The operator said its 5G penetration rate now stands at 36.2%.

Both carriers are also reaping results from 5G take-up: China Mobile just reported operating revenue of 443.6 billion yuan, an increase of 13.8% year-on-year. EBITDA totalled RMB162.0 billion, up by 11.2% year-on-year, with an EBITDA margin of 36.5% (See China Telecom banks on 5G as mobile revenue exceeds wireline). 

Over in South Korea, KT Corp and SK Telecom (SKT) both reported 5G subscriber growth in Q2 2021, although of course nowhere near the scale of their Chinese counterparts. However, South Korea continues to excel in 5G speeds. In its April 2021 report, Opensignal said South Korea topped the ranking for 5G download speeds at national level with 361Mbps. 

KT said the number of 5G subscribers amounted to 5.01 million at the end of June, compared with 4.4 million the previous quarter, and accounted for 35% of total handset subscribers. SKT added close to 1 million 5G subscribers in Q2, bringing its total to 7.7 million compared to 6.74 million at the end of March.

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