updated 11:23 am EDT, Thu May 22, 2014
High-end cellular data market small but growing rapidly, says CEO
The head of the world's largest cellular provider, China Mobile's CEO Li Yue, has revealed that about half of the 2.8 million TD-LTE "4G" subscribers on his network are iPhone users. While dwarfed by the total number of customers China Mobile has -- some 780 million -- the figure suggest that the iPhone is the preferred brand as Chinese customers transition from "feature" phones to LTE-capable smartphones.
Left out of the 2.8 million figure was how many 3G customers are using iPhones. According to analyst estimates, Apple sold three million iPhones in China in just the previous quarter, indicating that most iPhone buyers have not yet moved into LTE data contracts. About 417 million of China Mobile's 780 million users are currently on 3G speeds.
The growth to 2.8 million LTE users in China is significant -- as recently as March, China Mobile had estimated the number of LTE subscribers at 1.34 million, or less than half the figure revealed on Thursday. The number also doesn't include 3G and LTE subscribers on the country's other two largest networks, China Unicom and China Telecom. After several years of negotiations, China Mobile finally began selling the iPhone in the first weeks of 2014.