China Unicom

Unicom pulls out stops to smash 25m target

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 May, 2011, 12:00am


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China Unicom (Hong Kong), the country's second-biggest wireless network operator, expects rapid subscriber growth in the next few months will help it surpass its goal of 25 million new 3G users this year.

Beijing-based Unicom, the sole carrier-partner for Apple's iPhone on the mainland, also hinted that it could pursue a new financing initiative this year amid its hefty capital spending programme.

Senior management addressed those developments yesterday following the operator's annual general meeting in Hong Kong.

'We're fully confident of acquiring more subscribers than we targeted,' Unicom president Lu Yimin said. 'We have some new measures and packages that would help acquire more subscribers.'

The carrier is offering a plan of 66 yuan (HK$79) a month for the iPhone, down from 96 yuan.

Unicom started the year with 14.1 million 3G users. It added 1.85 million in March and 1.82 million last month to push its total to 20.35 million.

Without disclosing further details of initiatives to sign up more 3G customers, chairman and chief executive Chang Xiaobing said: 'Our net addition may be less than two million a month, but we expect to gain momentum over the next few months.'

Unicom expected the scheduled expansion of its network this year and sale of Research In Motion's BlackBerry devices to help add 3G users.

Macquarie Securities in Hong Kong has forecast that Unicom could sign up to 30 million new 3G users this year.

In light of rival China Telecom Corp's plan to issue yuan-denominated bonds in Hong Kong, Unicom is considering some fund-raising of its own.

'We probably may need to do some financing this year to support our capital expenditure plan,' senior vice-president Tong Jilu said. 'But we still need to study the cost-effectiveness of this undertaking.'

Tong said Unicom would make an announcement 'when appropriate'.

Unicom said in March it would boost capital spending this year to 73.8 billion yuan, up from 70 billion yuan last year, to expand its 3G, wi-fi and fixed-line broadband infrastructure nationwide.

It is set to launch a so-called Evolved High-Speed Packet Access-Standard 3G network upgrade in major cities this year.

This will raise mobile data transfer speeds to 21 megabits per second from 14.4Mbps.

Commenting on the recent nationwide audit of parent company China United Network Communications Group, Hong Kong-listed Unicom and seven other subsidiaries, Tong said: 'We've accepted the findings of the audit and have already made adjustments.'

The mainland's National Audit Office (NAO) conducted a review on the 2009 financial information of the Unicom Group and its subsidiaries and uncovered 'certain improper measures and practices'.

The NAO discovered, for example, that there were misallocation of expenses between Unicom and its parent company.

Unicom, in a filing with the Hong Kong stock exchange last Friday, said it had 'updated the arrangements for related party transactions last year'.

The company's share price was down 1.85 per cent to close at HK$15.96 yesterday.