China Mobile adds 5 million users in December

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China Mobile adds 5 million users in December

More than the population of Ireland.

China Mobile, the world's largest mobile phone operator, signed up 4.82 million new users during December, more than the total population of Ireland. 

The operator added 53.2 million users last year to reach over 300 million, according to analysts at KGI Securities in Hong Kong. 

China Mobile and smaller rival China Unicom opened a combined 6.1 million new accounts last month, according to KGI data, which cited company sources. 

China Unicom now has 142 million subscribers. The two companies added well over 60 million users last year, more than the population of the UK.

Only two mobile phone providers exist in China's heavily-regulated telecoms market, providing an ideal environment for near-unrestrained subscriber growth at the giant government-linked China Mobile.

However, the government is expected to licence two new operators when it rolls out long-delayed 3G services sometime during the next 12 months.

Driven by the strong subscriber growth, China Mobile's revenues surged 21 per cent to US$37.7bn last year. The company generated US$12.5bn in profit before tax.

China Mobile will spend US$285m of these profits to take control of Paktel, Pakistan's oldest mobile phone firm, the company announced today.

The investment, which will give the Chinese firm an 89 percent stake, is its first successful foreign acquisition. Several previous efforts have failed, after rivals outbid the Chinese operator.

"The transaction implies an enterprise valuation for Paktel Limited of US$460m," China Mobile announced in a press statement.

"Completion of the transaction is subject to the receipt of certain regulatory approvals. If such approvals are obtained, completion is expected to occur in late February 2007."

While China's mobile firms hog the limelight, local fixed network operator China Telecom also reported expansion. But growth in fixed lines is slowing and China Telecom was outpaced by the mobile operators. 

China Telecom added a further 640,000 new lines during December, and now claims a total of 223 million subscribers.

"Given the continuous decline of the mobile tariff, the 'mobile phone as a substitute for a fixed line effect' has dominated the subscriber market," wrote KGI Securities analysts in a note to investment clients today.

"China Mobile is the major winner subscriber growth and profit growth in 2006, which is anticipated to increase 26 percent year on year.
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