China has more than 1.6 billion mobile subscribers (> China’s entire population!)

China has a little more than 1.6 billion mobile subscribers as of year end 2019.  That’s remarkable, considering China 2019 population is estimated at 1,433,783,686 people at mid year 2019 according to UN data.

China Mobile remains by far the largest Chinese cellular operator, with 950.2 million customers, of which 758 million are 4G users.

China Telecom, which has been growing steadily in the past year, has moved into second place with 335.57 million mobile customers, compared to 318.4 million at Unicom.

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Number of mobile phone subscribers in China from 2008 to 2018 (Source:


China Mobile is also biggest in the fixed broadband market, ending 2019 with a total of 187.04 million users. However, in December 2019, it lost 609,000 fixed broadband customers, compared to a net addition of 694,000 in November and more than 1.9 million customer adds in OctoberChina Telecom saw its fixed broadband subscriber base drop by 0.62 million in the month to 153.13 million, and Unicom lost 975,000 for a total of 83.47 million fixed broadband subscribers.

On November 1, 2019, Chinese operators China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom announced the rollout of 5G mobile phone services to customers. The three operators started by offering 5G plans for CNY 128 per month.

While the rollout of 4G in China took 46 months, 5G is expected to be available within ten months. China Mobile, the biggest of the three operators, already has 10 million customers interested in 5G, who are the first to access the services at launch. China Mobile earlier announced it expects to end 2019 with 5G coverage of 50 cities, and add another 340 cities in 2020, covering a population of 600-700 million people.


China Internet penetration reached 61.2% in 1st half 2019; 99.1% access Internet via mobile phones!

24 thoughts on “China has more than 1.6 billion mobile subscribers (> China’s entire population!)

  1. March 15, 2020:
    Beijing has put 26,000 5G base stations into operation, with 5G users reaching about 800,000, according to the Beijing Municipal Communications Administration.

    Beijing municipal government rolled out policies in the past year to support the telecom industry by slashing the expenses in carrying out 5G infrastructure construction, said the administration in a statement.

    According to a report compiled by the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, the 5G commercialization in China is expected to generate a direct gross output of 10.6 trillion yuan (about 1.51 trillion U.S. dollars) from 2020 to 2025, plus an indirect gross output of about 24.8 trillion yuan.

    Given the complexity of the current epidemic control and the economic development, it is an important and pressing task to expedite the development of 5G technology, said Chen Zhaoxiong, vice minister of Industry and Information Technology, recently.

  2. One thing you are missing is the massive migrant worker population in China. Most of them maintain 2 cell phone numbers – one at home and one in the city they work in. That accounts for a massive number of duplicates, closely followed by connected devices who are also counted as subscribers.

    1. A more recent article does mention migrant workers:

      “… part of the decrease in wireless subscribers could be due to migrant workers — who often have one subscription for where they work and another for their home region — canceling their work-region account after the virus prevented them from returning to work after the Lunar New Year holidays which began in late January.”

      We can not cover every underground, hidden from the media items in each IEEE techblog post!

      Thanks for your comment!

  3. China is going all out on 5G construction
    The headline may not be new, but the numbers are.

    The big three telcos are ready to sink around 180 billion yuan ($25.5 billion) into their 5G rollouts in 2020. That’s more than four times the 2019 level.

    It’s not clear whether this is something long planned, or whether it flows from the party leadership directive to double down on 5G and boost the virus-stricken economy. (See China 5G: Unicom and Telecom speed up rollout.)

    However, analysts have complained that the aggregate rise in capex was short of expectations, suggesting that operators have shifted some spend from other items to 5G.

    Additionally, China Tower expects to tip RMB17 billion ($2.4 billion) into 5G this year, taking the total close to RMB200 billion ($28.2 billion).

    It’s not always easy being government-owned
    Being state-owned in a socialist economy isn’t always a doddle.

    Sure, the regulator has your back, and you don’t have to squander your hard-earned cash in a frivolous spectrum auction, but every now and then the public interest rears its ugly head.

    Specifically, the MIIT has been bearing down on operators over the past five years, demanding “faster speeds and lower prices.” The result is a series of price cuts, in particular in mobile.

    In the first year of the scheme, China Mobile cut mobile tariffs by 43%. Its average revenue per user since then has fallen from RMB59 ($8.30) to RMB49 ($6.90). China Unicom’s has shrunk from RMB47.80 ($6.75) to RMB40.10 ($5.65).

    No wonder they struggle to get any revenue growth in their core business.

    Telco leaders need to get their story straight about subs losses
    The plunge in total subscriber numbers over the first two months of the year has attracted a lot of attention both inside and outside China. (See China’s mobile subs base shrinks by 20M.)

    Following a tepid January, the three operators lost 19.4 million customers between them last month, with the smallest player, Unicom, taking the biggest hit.

    One of the more lurid explanations is that the disappearance of millions of subscribers reflects an unreported mass death toll from COVID-19. China’s numbers are dodgy but not that dodgy.

    Problem is, industry bosses themselves aren’t sure what to make of it.

    China Unicom boss Wang Xiaochu blames it on customers dumping dual SIMs. For years, a lot of people have carried a second or third SIM to avoid roaming and long-distance charges. But those charges are disappearing because of changing price structures. Plus, people have been staying at home and connecting over Wi-Fi for the past two months.

    China Telecom vice president Wang Guoquan says it’s because of the closure of retail stores during the outbreak, while China Mobile CEO Yang Jie also pins it on the coronavirus without elaborating how.

    The epidemic is no doubt the biggest factor – the January number is weak because the virus wiped out the traditional Chinese New Year shopping blitz. The collapse in February, while much of the country was in lockdown, appears a direct result of the contagion.

    However, analysts also point to the introduction of even tighter ID authentication rules in December, causing customers to abandon or decide not to renew their services.

    Network sharing is in
    The Telecom-Unicom network-sharing experiment appears to be an unqualified success. It has saved RMB10 billion ($1.4 billion) on rollout costs since last September, according to Unicom figures.

    Combined, it will give the partners scale to go head to head with China Mobile, which expects to have 300,000 basestations in operation by year end. The two smaller operators are targeting 250,000 by the end of the third quarter.

    But it may also pave the way to a partnership between China Mobile and the underfunded new licensee, China Broadcast Network (CBN). (See China’s Newest Operator Now Has 2 Suitors.)

    China Mobile’s Yang Jie confirmed last week he’s had discussions with CBN management on a sharing arrangement.

    There’s some pressure from above to get a deal done. But any agreement struck would certainly look different from the Telecom-Unicom partnership, which is basically one of equals.

  4. Coronavirus Outbreak Has Led to a Decline in the Number of Mobile Phone Users in China

    According to Han Xia, director of the Information and Communication Administration Bureau of the Ministry of Electricity and Information Technology, the recent performance reports of operators show that the number of mobile phone users has decreased. Based on the data from the three operators, the following reasons were found to be attributable to the decrease:

    First, due to the coronavirus outbreak, many entity channels of telecom companies were unable to operate normally in February, resulting in a slowdown in new user growth. Besides some users cancel their temporary phone cards because of reduced social and economic activities as they cannot return to work.

    Second, as people across the country do not need to change their phone numbers to switch to another mobile service provider and the country promotes faster and more affordable internet connection, some dual-SIM phone users no longer see the need for alternative traffic cards, which resulted in the cancelations of the secondary phone numbers.

    Han said he believed the number of mobile phone users could grow as economic and social activities gradually resume. According to the latest data from China Telecom, the number of mobile phone users in China increased by 245,000 per day from March 1 to March 22, which is an increase of 114% from February.

  5. Great blog post! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay. I’m absolutely enjoying your blog and look forward to new updates.

    1. You can follow me on Twitter @ajwdct and also on Linked In where I have 1130 followers

  6. Do you use Twitter to announce your IEEE Techblog posts? If so, i’d like to follow you if that would be okay. I’m absolutely enjoying your blog posts and look forward to new posts on a variety of telecom topics.

    1. Yes I announce all the new IEEE Techblog posts on Twitter. Follow me @ajwdct. Also post them on Linked In

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  15. I enjoy reading a post like this one that will make people think. Can China really have more mobile subscribers than the country’s entire population? Especially since so many Chinese people live in rural areas where there is no cell phone coverage. In 2019, 552 million Chinese people lived in rural areas. That year, China had a total population of approximately 1.4 billion people. So 1.6 billion mobile subs is indeed something to think about!

  16. Generally I do not read tech articles on blogs. However, this write-up of China’s > 1.6 billion mobile subscribers very much attracted my attention and interest! Your excellent writing style surprised me. Thanks for quite a nice IEEE Techblog post.

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