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Chinese 3G users top 150 MILLION but most still on 2G

Operators launch HSPA+, cheap deals to snare more punters

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China may boast staggeringly large internet and mobile phone user numbers but the latest government figures show that the quality and speed of the services most are receiving still leave a lot to be desired.

Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) vice minister Shang Bing used the occasion of World Telecommunications and Information Society Day on Thursday to reveal that China now has 152 million 3G subscribers, according to Sina (tr. TechinAsia).

Pretty impressive stuff, however, China now boasts over one billion mobile phone users, and just 370m mobile internet users, highlighting the vast number that are still on 2G or basic, non-internet connected devices.

Mobile is where it’s heading for China, though, with stats in March revealing the country is now number one in the world for new iOS and Android activations and represents the fastest growing market for mobile apps.

As if to emphasise the the future of the web in China is mobile, MIIT's Shang explained that the People’s Republic now boasts a total of over 520m internet users, less than 30 per cent of whom have fixed line broadband.

Historically, take up of 3G has been relatively low in the country, with service quality described by analysts as poor.

China’s three state-run operators are pulling out all the stops to attract more customers, though. China Unicom was set to roll-out a faster HSPA+ service to its 3G customers beginning on Thursday.

On the same day, rival China Unicom reportedly announced its cheapest ever contract starting at 20yuan a month in a bid to attract entry-level users.

The mobile manufacturers also have a big part to play, of course, and the likes of Xiaomi, Lenovo, Huawei and ZTE are all planning a big push at the budget end of the smartphone space, which could persuade yet more customers to go 3G.

With by far the largest number of total subscribers and 3G users in China, China Mobile is also been keenly watched by the industry.

All the talk at present is of the firm doing a deal with Apple which would finally allow the iPhone to run on its home-grown TD-SCDMA standard – opening up a huge market for Cupertino and providing a likely surge in 3G users in China.

However, the speculation appears to be premature in the extreme. All that chairman Xi Guohua has said so far, according to Reuters, is: “We've been actively talking to Apple on how we can cooperate.”

Whatever happens, Chinese users face a wait of at least two years before they can get their hands on 4G, with the government having already stated it wants double the number of 4G-enabled base stations in the country before licenses will be handed out. ®

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