China added 300 million 5G subscribers and a million 5G base stations in 2020

Three big telcos also boast 1.3 billion 4G subscriptions, and 400m broadband connections heading to gigabit speeds


China’s big three telcos – China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom – have said they added more than 300 million 5G subscriptions in 2020, an expansion supported by the construction of more than million new 5G-enabled base transceiver stations (BTS).

The Register calculated those numbers from the annual financial results of the three carriers, a feat we can now reveal as China Telecom released its figures yesterday.

Here’s our view of how the Chinese 5G market grew in 2020.

Carrier 5G subs total (millions) New 2020 5G subs (millions) 5G base stations New 5G base stations 2020 4G subscribers (millions)
China Mobile 165 162.5 390,000 339,000 775
China Unicom 70.83 65* 380,000 320,000 270
China Telecom 86.5 75.77 380,000 300,000 264.5
Totals 322 303 1,150,000 959,000 1,310

* Estimate. China Unicom launched its 5G service in November 2019 and did not disclose end-of-year subscriber numbers for that year, though it did disclose how many it had in total at the end of 2020. Taking into account industry numbers we guesstimated 65m signed up for China Unicom 5G in 2020.

The three giant telcos’ annual reports all detail an expectation that they’ll build hundreds of thousands more BTSes in 2021 and add tens of millions more 5G subscriptions.

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They also hope that the 5G surge helps them to improve average-revenue-per-user (ARPU), a metric that has fallen in recent years even as average traffic sent to handsets soars. China Mobile recorded a 39 percent jump to 9.4GB a month on average in 2019.

Also on the agenda is increased speeds for wired broadband, with gigabit-speed home connections on the agenda for all three big carriers, along with smart home packages. Together, the three big carriers have over 400 million wired broadband customers.

China Mobile’s FY2020 revenue was $117bn, up three per cent year on year. EBITDA sank three points to $43.6bn. ®

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