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China Mobile loses about 4 million subscribers in first quarter

[HONG KONG] China Mobile Ltd's wireless user base shrank in the first quarter as the spread of the new coronavirus shut down China's economy and prompted millions to cancel services at the country's largest mobile carrier.

Subscriptions fell by 3.98 million in the three months ended March, the state-owned carrier said in a statement Monday. Net income fell 0.8 per cent to 23.5 billion yuan (S$4.71 billion).

Key Insights

The carrier, which has more than 940 million subscribers, may benefit in the months ahead as economic activity begins to return toward normal. Users rose by 4.1 million in March, narrowing the quarterly decline, after the 8.1 million-subscriber drop over January and February.

The expansion of 5G coverage planned this year may also help lure subscribers to higher-priced heavy-data plans.

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While the company is spending to expand 5G networks, it has also been maintaining dividend levels and had cash and bank deposits of about 317 billion yuan as of the end of last year.

Attracting 5G subscribers is a key for growth as those users tend to spend more per month. The company had about 31.7 million 5G subscribers as of the end of March.

While total subscribers fell in the first quarter, the carrier benefited from a slight rise in average revenue per user from the previous quarter as the introduction of 5G networks made it easier for users to play richer video games and use applications that consume more data.

Market Reaction

China Mobile shares fell as much as 2.1 per cent in Hong Kong trading Tuesday, bringing their decline to about 8.7 per cent this year, compared with a 16 per cent 2020 decline for the benchmark Hang Seng Index.

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