China Mobile Poised To Benefit From Surging Data Demand

NEW YORK ( Trefis) -- China's smartphone market is poised to grow by leaps and bounds as low-cost smartphones make an entry into the market and the carriers subsidize even expensive handsets such as Apple's ( AAPL) iPhone.

As a sign of growing demand, the mobile Internet market is booming with purchases made through mobile devices in the first quarter of 2012 already matching the same for the whole of last year.

According to data group Analysys International, data for the first quarter of 2012 showed that mobile shopping climbed to 10.5 billion yuan and accounted for more than a third of all revenues generated by the mobile Internet market.

The surging demand for data is a good opportunity for the incumbent Chinese telecom providers such as China Unicom ( CHU) , China Telecom ( CHA) and particularly, China Mobile ( CHL) to tap their huge second-generation, or 2G, subscriber base and drive the demand for more lucrative 3G data services.

China Mobile is not only China's largest wireless services provider but also the world's largest. It has a subscriber base of over 665 million, more than three times as many as its nearest competitor, China Unicom. We believe that this huge subscriber base is what gives China Mobile a better opportunity than rivals to tap the surge in demand for 3G in coming years. (See our our full analysis for China Mobile's stock.)

Growing 3G Adoption Drives China Mobile's Value

3G services have driven the ARPU levels of many carriers in the developed world. Carriers including Verizon ( VZ), AT&T ( T) and Sprint ( S) in the U.S. have seen rapid growth in mobile data revenues over the past few years, driven by growing demand for 3G-capable smartphones.

This has come even as voice ARPUs have declined, a trend that can be seen in the Chinese telecom market as well. China Mobile's voice ARPU levels have declined from around $7.40 in 2007 to about $6.50 in 2011, by our estimates.

With voice ARPU on the wane, Chinese telecom operators have started pushing 3G-capable smartphones to drive data ARPU levels. 3G penetration is at a low 15% currently, so the opportunity to push 3G is immense.

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