The Real Numbers in China
By Carlo Longino, Wed Oct 29 21:15:00 GMT 2003

The latest round of usage data comes out of China, but one analysts casts doubt on the number of subscribers. For handset manufacturers, that's good news.

There's no doubt that China is the world's single largest mobile market, and the Chinese government likes to trumpet that fact. The latest report in the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily newspaper says there are about 244 million mobile users in the country, but one UBS analysts says the real figure is closer to 174 million, two-thirds the government figure.

The analyst, Sean Debow, puts the discrepancy down to Chinese users' common practice of carrying several SIM cards -- often 5 or 6 -- and swapping them out when they travel to avoid onerous roaming charges. The country's Ministry of Information confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that they base their counts on SIM cards and the like, and Debow says the number of users with multiple cards in China is far greater than other countries.

So how is this good news for manufacturers? It indicates that the Chinese market isn't as saturated as previously thought, and shows great potential for new phone sales. It also indicates that China may this year export more handsets than it actually consumes.