China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL), the world’s largest wireless provider, reported that its subscriber count reached 771.866 million at the end of January. No wonder Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) and every other major manufacturer of both cellphones and smartphones want a partnership with the Chinese company. Because of its size, China Mobile has become the most important battleground in the world among these smartphone manufacturers.
The three largest wireless firms in the People’s Republic, which include China Telecom Corp. Ltd. (NYSE: CHA) and China Unicom (Hong Kong) Ltd. (NYSE: CHU), had 1.24 billion subscribers at the end of January, which is close to one subscription per person based on a total population of 1.35 billion people. The level of saturation makes it unlikely that any of the three companies will grow rapidly. As is true among the major providers in the United States, the battle among the top companies has become one of market share.
The potential for smartphone sales growth among China’s wireless companies is the installation of 4G around the country. As was true in the United States several years ago, this evolution made smartphones attractive because the high-speed bandwidth allowed users to send files and watch video, among other things. The great potential for the world’s largest smartphone companies that operate in the People’s Republic is to sell their products to customers of 4G as they come online.
Five smartphone vendors are currently in a contentious race to capture significant customer share among China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom. According to IDC, the leaders among smartphone companies are global leader Samsung, PC giant Lenovo, Yulong Computer Telecommunication Scientific and Huawei. Apple sits in fifth place. However, its recent distribution deal with China Telecom could change that.
The sheer scale of China Mobile’s customer based could help add hundreds of millions of unit sales to the global totals of any of the top five manufacturers. That makes China’s largest wireless provider the most important battleground for smartphone providers in the world.