According to the latest market study by ABI Research, the global mobile phone services industry concluded 2010 with 5.5 billion subscriptions.
The Asia-Pacific region accounted for 53 percent (2.9 billion) of that total. One-third of this can be attributed to the huge 2G market in India -- another one-third to China.
As of December 2010, China had 860 million subscribers, although 3G subscriptions accounted for fewer than 50 million, or roughly 5.5 percent of the total.
"While there are wide differentials in disposable income, it is still surprising how slow China's 3G rate of growth has been," said ABI Research practice director Neil Strother.
China's literacy rates are high, familiarity with the Internet is also high through PC use in extended families as well as ubiquitous Internet cafes. And yet, 3G adoption has been muted.
At the end of 2010, China Mobile's TD-SCDMA subscriber base stood at more than 20 million, China Unicom’s WCDMA had 14 million subscribers, while China Telecom had more than 12 million CDMA subscribers.
"3G is generally still viewed as a luxury service in China," notes research associate Fei Feng Seet. "China Unicom reported its 2010 ARPU for WCDMA subscription at US$18.75 per month, which is three times the US$6 monthly ARPU for GSM."
Despite the launch of 3G networks, mobile consumers have not jumped into upgrading their subscriptions immediately as rapidly as in other markets. In fact over the past year, 2G has gained about 80 million subscribers.
ABI believes that demand for 3G data services should pick up in the next two years as prices drop and more consumers require mobile data. 3G is forecast to reach 36 percent of China's subscribers by 2016.
It is unclear whether all the operators will be issued TD-LTE 4G licenses or whether the FDD version of LTE will also be an option in 2014.