China Mobile, the world’s largest operators in terms of subscribers, added 29.17 million 5G subscribers in the first quarter of 2020, the company said in its earnings release.
The carrier said it ended March with a total of 31.72 million 5G subscribers, compared to 2.55 million 5G customers at the end of last year.
The company’s overall mobile subscriber base was reported as 946 million, down almost 4 million in the quarter.
The operator’s net profit declined 0.8% year-on-year in the first quarter to CNY23.5 billion ($3.32 billion), with operating revenue falling 2% to CNY181.3 billion. China Mobile’s service revenue climbed 1.8% to CNY168.9 billion, while product sales declined 34.9% to CNY12.4 billion.
In a statement, China Mobile chairman Yang Jie said COVID-19 posed an impact on the overall society and economy in the first quarter of 2020 and that the group’s business development was no exception.
The executive noted the carrier took steps to ensure reliable communications, maintain service continuity and enhance prevention and control measures. It also accelerated its business transformation and upgrade as steps to control the spread increased demand for information services.
Yang also said that China Mobile will also “continue to optimize its revenue structure and strive to maintain growth in telecommunications services revenue for the full-year of 2020.”
“In the face of various challenges including COVID-19, business transformation and upgrade and higher 5G-related costs, the Group will continue to develop new sources of revenue and identify ways to curtail expenses, while taking measures to reduce costs and enhance efficiency,” the executive added.
Earlier this month, China Mobile awarded most of a CNY37.1 billion ($5.2 billion) 5G contract to compatriot vendors Huawei and ZTE, according to Chinese press reports. Huawei won 57.3% of the value of contracts across 28 provinces, with ZTE taking 28.7%, Ericsson 11.5% and China Information Communication Technologies 2.6%.
In the new phase of its 5G program, China Mobile is aiming to acquire over 232,000 5G base stations as it looks to extend coverage to 28 regions across China.
The Chinese carrier has already completed the first phase of its 5G network deployment. Currently, China Mobile provides 5G coverage in 50 cities. The operator is aiming to have a total of 300,000 5G sites across China by the end of 2020.
In its first tender, conducted in 2019, the operator selected Nokia and Ericsson as well as Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE.
China Mobile had already deployed nearly 50,000 5G base stations across the country as of the end of last year and currently provides 5G technology in 50 cities across China.
The company’s chairman Yang Jie previously said that carrier plans to leverage base station sites and transmission facilities used for 4G services to deploy its 5G network cost-effectively.
According to a report by China Daily, the carrier aims to end 2020 with a total of 70 million 5G subscribers.