China Unicom's next-generation mobile service won more than 1 million users in its first month, a number that took rival China Mobile seven months to reach with its homegrown 3G standard.
China Unicom, which last month launched commercial 3G services using the standard WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access), had just over 1 million subscribers by the end of the month, the company said late Thursday. China Mobile, the world's largest carrier by subscribers, launched its commercial 3G service in January but only surpassed 1 million users in July.
China Mobile runs the world's only major mobile network using the government-backed 3G standard developed in China, TD-SCDMA (Time Division Synchronous CDMA). The standard is unproven compared to those being used by the carrier's rivals, China Unicom and China Telecom. Both WCDMA and the China Telecom standard, CDMA-2000, were widely used outside China before launching there.
China Mobile's fortunes may be turning. Last month, more than 2.3 million subscribers used the carrier's 3G services, it said Friday. That was a rise of more than 600,000 from the previous month, by far the fastest growth the company has reported so far.
A lack of fashionable handsets has often been cited as a challenge for the growth of 3G in China. But more handsets are appearing, including the iPhone, which China Unicom began selling late last month. China Mobile will launch the first Dell smartphone in the world next month, and China Telecom is in talks to offer handsets including the BlackBerry and the Palm Pre.
China Mobile expects to have 3 million 3G subscribers by the end of the year, the company's chairman, Wang Jianzhou, said this week. The release of more low-end handsets for the carrier's 3G standard will help boost user numbers, he said.
Still, China Mobile's user base will have to start growing even faster to meet an aggressive government target of at least 50 million TD-SCDMA users by the end of next year.
Spokeswomen at China Unicom and China Mobile declined to comment on the subscriber figures. But China Unicom's faster growth could be partly due to its wider 3G network coverage at time of launch. China Unicom covered 285 Chinese cities when it launched 3G services, while China Mobile still reached just 38 cities in July.
The uptick in China Mobile's growth could be due to an economic rebound, which Wang said has pushed call traffic back to the levels it saw before the global downturn.
China has over 700 million mobile subscribers, according to official figures.