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China overestimates 3G numbers by HALF

Domestic 3G/landline hybrid counted as pure 3G by mistake

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The Chinese government has been forced into an embarrassing u-turn after admitting that previously estimated figures for 3G subscriptions in the country were double what they should have been.

Wei Leping, deputy standing director of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) Communications Science & Technology Commission, broke the news at the 2012 Broadband Communications and M2M Summit in the capital on Friday, according to Beijing-based IT consultancy Marbridge Consulting.

The latest figures proudly announced by MIIT vice minister Shang Bing last month put the figure at 152 million, which means the actual number is more like 75 million, although Marbridge puts it a bit higher at around 80m.

The blame for the confusion was levelled very squarely at the world's biggest mobile operator, China Mobile.

Although China Unicom’s subscriber figures were apparently “relatively trustworthy” as they were based on actual 3G mobile plans, market leader China Mobile’s numbers were comprised mainly of terminal sales, which included a hefty number of wireless landline phones based on its home-grown TD-SCDMA 3G standard.

Apart from not being true mobile phones, these devices are only capable of basic voice and text functions, said Marbridge.

With over one billion mobile phone users in the People’s Republic, the revised 3G figures show China is further back in its mobile internet evolution than previously thought, despite the huge success of the iPhone and others in the high end smartphone market like Samsung's Galaxy range and Xiaomi’s sleek Mi-one.

Most users still have 2G or basic, non-internet connected devices, with Nokia and Symbian the leading handset maker and platform provider respectively.

3G uptake is moving at a rapid pace in China, however, with operators cutting the price of 3G plans and improving their historically poor quality of service, while handset makers look to persuade punters to make the leap from feature phones by offering more choice at the budget end of the smartphone space.

With 4G still at least two years away, the next 12 months is likely to see 3G uptake surge past the 150m user mark ... for real this time. ®

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