Chinese operators lose 21 million subscribers during pandemic

The travel ban might be behind the decline in subscriptions seen by Chinese operators

COVID-19 continues to spread, disrupting nearly every corner of the world, every household and every industry. In China, where the virus originated, wireless carriers have reported a loss of 21 million user subscriptions in the midst of the pandemic. The country’s largest operator, China Mobile, is experiencing the first net decline since 2000 when it began reporting on monthly data, which illustrated the severity of the situation.

Over January and February, the months most associated with widespread regional severity of COVID-19, China Mobile subscriptions fell by more than 8 million, according to data on the company’s website. China Unicom Hong Kong subscribers fell by 7.8 million in the period, while China Telecom has said during this last month, it lost 5.6 million users.

Further, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) stated that between December 18, 2019 and March 19 2020, cellphone users decreased from 1.600957 billion to 1.579927 billion, while the number of landlines dropped 840,000 during the same period.

It is believed that the decline in mobile subscriptions is, in part, a result of China’s travel ban. Individuals who travel regularly for work often have more than a single connected device, and therefore more than one subscription. Now that travel is impossible, those users may be reducing their connections to one.

User subscriptions are not the only thing that Chinese operators are seeing decline. China Mobile shares fell 2.7% in Hong Kong trading Monday, compared with a 4.9% slump for the benchmark Hang Seng Index. China Telecom slid 6.3% and China Unicom declined 6.4%.

The drop in users is a concern, of course. However, China’s wireless industry, as a whole, is still performing well, with the Chinese operators, combined, seeing a total of 1.6 billion subscriptions.

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