China has 117M cellular subscribers, says ministry

The number of mobile phone subscribers in mainland China grew 31.5 million, or nearly 37 percent, during the first six months of 2001 to 117 million subscribers, a pace that far outstrips growth in the number of fixed-line subscribers, according to a report released Wednesday by China's Ministry of Information Industry (MII).

The number of fixed-line phone subscribers in China grew by almost 20.2 million, or 14 percent, during the first half of 2001, the report said.

Overall, the combined number of phone subscribers grew by about 52 million, or 22.5 percent, to reach 281 million during the first six months of the year, of which 164 million are fixed-line phone subscribers, the report said. Mobile phone users currently represent 41.6 percent of all phone subscribers in China.

One of the factors that has been driving rapid growth in the number of Chinese cell phone subscribers is the availability of pre-paid services, the report said, noting that nearly 37 percent of new mobile phone subscribers are using pre-paid services. Overall, roughly 28.5 million subscribers, or 24 percent of all mobile phone customers, use pre-paid services, the report said.

However, according to one analyst, the figures are only part of a bigger picture.

"That is not a trend that is specific to China," said Bertrand Bidaud, research director at Gartner Inc. "This has been a general trend, especially when you reach a market segment that's more price-sensitive."

While pre-paid services may help attract more subscribers, they tend to be less-intensive users and don't provide carriers with an equivalent boost in terms of revenue, Bidaud said.

Looking ahead, growth in the number of mobile phone subscribers in China is not likely to accelerate, said Bidaud. "We don't predict any major change in the growth of the number of new subscribers," he said.

Also, while growth in the number of new mobile phone users is expected to remain constant, growth will slow down in terms of the percentage increase as the existing subscriber population grows, said Bidaud.

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