The number of mobile phone subscribers in China reached 997 million at the end of February and is expected to top 1 billion by the end of this month, according to a report from Sina Technology News. In January, total mobile communications revenue reached $9.35 billion.
China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL) reported in January that it had 642 million subscribers, while China Unicom (Hong Kong) Ltd. (NYSE: CHU) reported about 203 million subscribers and China Telecom Corp. (NYSE: CHA) reported 130 million. China Unicom began selling the iPhone from Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) last month and China Telecom will begin offering the iPhone this month. China Mobile has yet to strike an agreement with Apple to sell the iPhone.
Most of China’s mobile phone subscribers are still using the 2G networks, and movement to the speedier 3G networks has been slow. Only 14% of the country’s mobile phone users are connected to a 3G network. At the end of January, China Mobile claimed 54 million subscribers to its 3G service, while China Unicom claimed 43 million and China Telecom claimed 39 million.
The addition of the iPhone could help China Unicom and China Telecom push past China Mobile in 3G subscribers, but China Mobile’s huge lead in total subscribers is probably not in jeopardy — yet.