New China 3G User Stats Suggest China Unicom Might Dominate By Next Year

New 3G subscriber stats for China’s two largest mobile carriers show that China Unicom (NYSE:CHU; HKG:0762) is still making good progress, hitting a new milestone in its pursuit of China Mobile (NYSE:CHL; HKG:0941), the world’s biggest telco by user numbers. For the first time ever, China Unicom’s number of 3G users is now well past 80 percent of China Mobile’s 3G subscriber base [1], and is closing in at a rate that suggests that the smaller rival might surpass China Mobile in terms of 3G by 2013 Q1.

New stats for the end of March (2012 Q1) show that China Unicom’s 3G (WDCMA) smartphone subs amounted to 48.86 million, out of 160.63 million total GSM mobile users. China Mobile, meanwhile, rocked up to 59.56 million on 3G (TD-SCMA) from a whopping 667.2 million on its entire network. Historically, China Mobile has been hobbled by its localized TD-SCDMA data network, which doesn’t work with most global phones or tablets. China Unicom, in contrast, can be used with any global WCDMA phone, such as the popular models like the Samsung Galaxy S and SII and is the first to get Apple’s iPhone and iPad in China (with it coming later to China Telecom (NYSE:CHA; HKG:0728) for its CDMA network).

In total, China has just over a billion mobile users by now.

Here’s an interactive graph showing the 3G user-ship of Unicom relative to China Mobile; note the fast-shrinking proportional gap between the two rivals:

[Download image version of chart]

At the most recent 2012 Q1, China Unicom has 82 percent of China Mobile’s 3G user-ship (48.86 million versus 59.56 million). Back in 2011 Q1, Unicom’s total was only 69 percent of its rivals.↩

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New China 3G User Stats Suggest China Unicom Might Dominate By Next Year