China Telecom banks on 5G as mobile revenue exceeds wireline

Anne Morris
By Anne Morris

Aug 10, 2021

  • China Telecom now has over 131 million 5G subscribers
  • Operator readying for its Shanghai listing
  • Asia Pacific forging ahead with 5G: report

It’s a busy time for China Telecom, currently planning to carry out the world’s biggest listing this year to date in Shanghai. The operator has also kicked off the reporting season for the first half (H1) of 2021, starting the bidding at 44.65 million additional new 5G customers. After the rapid ramp up of 5G numbers in 2020, China’s operators will be wanting to build on this momentum in 2021. 

Considering that China Telecom reported a total of 86.50 million 5G subscribers for 2020, that would seem to be a respectable development compared to last year. 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%. 

China Mobile, due to report its H1 results on 12 August, is nevertheless leading the Chinese pack on 5G. The mobile behemoth said it had 189 million 5G customers at the end of March 2021, up from 165 million in 2020. China Unicom’s results come out on 19 August; the operator reported just over 70 million 5G subscribers for 2020.

Analyst Dave Bowie, who has just penned a new report for Juniper Research noted that operators in China, Japan and South Korea “have all implemented lower subscription costs, which have accelerated 5G adoption, thus enabling these subscribers to explore novel services that require 5G connectivity.”

It comes as no surprise that 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. 

China Telecom is surely banking on 5G for much of its future growth, with mobile revenue now exceeding wireline. Indeed, analysts say its planned listing will enable the operator to diversify its financing channels, helping it play a major role in China’s ambitious 5G network rollout programme where it will invest in an industrial 5G platform, fund cloud-network integration, and other R&D efforts.

In H1 2021, the operator’s mobile services revenue increased 6.9% year-on-year to 93.3 billion yuan (US$14.4 billion), while wireline and ‘smart family’ service revenue rose by 5.2% to 57.4 billion yuan. Total service revenue increased by 8.8% to 203.5 billion yuan. EBITDA was up 5.1% at 66.3 billion yuan and net profit was 17% higher at about 16.3 billion yuan. 

The domestic market is certainly set to play a greater role for China’s three operators, all recently evicted from the New York Stock Exchange by the US authorities for being under the influence of the Chinese government. China Mobile also plans to carry out a Shanghai listing in 2021. All three operators are listed in Hong Kong and China Unicom already has a separate unit listed in Shanghai.

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