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China Continues to Add 30M Broadband Subscribers Per Year

Dave Burstein

China continues to add broadband subscribers at a rate of about 30M per year. MIIT puts the January growth at 2.5M to a total of 152.5M. Of those, about 1.5M were DSL. They don't release fiber counts, but Jeff Heynen of Infonetics is reporting tens of millions of lines of fiber gear are in the pipeline. China has been consistently at 2-3M net adds per month.

Two key policy moves are likely to maintain or even increase the growth rate. The government is leaning hard on China Tel and China Unicom to drop prices. They've begun the first major antitrust action against state-owned companies since the beginning of the Communist era. (The government continues to own over 70% of each telco.) China Telecom responded by promising to cut prices in half, but some of that is empty rhetoric. As China goes through a government transition, forceful action is on hold. Evidence around the world is that nothing increases customers nearly as effectively as lowering prices.

China Mobile jumping into landlines, hard, with an investment in the emerging national cable operator, Marbridge speculates. At the highest levels, government has also been calling for more competition through "convergence" of telcos, broadcasters, and cablecos. The central government continues to make proclamations that would allow the cablecos into data while the political power of the telcos holds them back. A series of maneuvers, some orchestrated by the media regulator SARFT, are consolidating cablecos across the industry into the China Radio and Television Network and allying them with the powerful "media groups." The companies in turn are expressing interest in huge purchases of equipment. If the political problems clear, over 100M cable customers will soon have new, attractively priced broadband choices.

10M new "subscribers" purchased mobile in January to reach 996M. China passed 1B subscribers sometime in February. Like mobile figures everywhere, the totals are distorted by the large number of customers with multiple phones or just multiple SIM cards. People take a new subscription to get a new phone or just to take advantage of a good deal on a SIM. In India, common phones have 2 SIM card slots. A dozen companies in the most competitive market in the world for mobile are constantly offering deals and customers simply add a second SIM to take advantage of the best prices for local and national calling.

The official figures of 70+% penetration therefore do not imply that the vast majority of Chinese 15 years or older have a mobile, but most do. 8M in January upgraded to 3G, nearly ubiquitous and not too expensive. 4G LTE is essentially on hold, with the ministry holding back frequency allocations until TD-LTE is fully ready. TD is in "trials" that will soon amount to millions of customers, but expect 2-3 more years before the ministry thinks the device ecosystem is ready for full fledged competition with FD-LTE deployed by China Telecom and Unicom. The continuing patent farce in the West — it's Yahoo against Facebook against Apple against Motorola against Kodak against Samsung against Microsoft against Ericsson — provides continuing motivation for the Chinese to develop their own standard by whatever means necessary.

By Dave Burstein, Editor, DSL Prime. Dave Burstein has edited DSL Prime and written about broadband and Internet TV for a decade.

Related topics: Access Providers, Broadband, Mobile, Policy & Regulation, Telecom, Wireless

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