China Mobile, the country's No1 mobile-telephone operator, aims to sign up more than 80 million new customers this year to maintain its strong growth before an expected industry restructuring starts. Top executives, who were in Hong Kong yesterday, disclosed their target after announcing better than expected earnings results for last year. They said net profit for the year to December totalled 87 billion yuan (HK$95.57 billion), up 31.9 per cent from 2006, and operating revenue rose to 356.9 billion yuan, 20.9 per cent higher than the previous year. Earnings per share rose to 4.35 yuan from 3.32 yuan. China Mobile will distribute a final dividend of HK$1.16 per share and a special final dividend of 1.6 HK cents, taking its dividend for last year to HK$2.098 per share. Chairman and chief executive Wang Jianzhou said China Mobile would pay out only 43 per cent of its net profit as dividends this year as it needed cash in case investment opportunities arose. 'China Mobile's results are slightly better than I had forecast, but they're no surprise,' said Marvin Lo, a telecommunications analyst at Daiwa Institute of Research. But he was disappointed the company had not raised its dividend payout ratio. Strong growth last year was driven by its subscriber base expanding 22.6 per cent to 369.3 million. Net additional subscribers increased 28 per cent to 68.1 million from 53.2 million at the end of 2006. Although about 50 per cent of the new subscribers came from low-spending rural areas, the average revenue per user dipped just 1 yuan to 89 yuan last year. To maintain fast subscriber growth, China Mobile has budgeted 127 billion yuan for capital spending, up from 105.1 billion yuan, with about 55 per cent of it going to expanding core networks, said executive director Li Yue. 'Our target is to gain 80 million subscribers this year. We expect voice traffic to continue to grow about 45 per cent this year,' he said. China Mobile added a record of more than seven million subscribers last month. Yesterday, Mr Wang vowed to maintain the pace of new customer growth, saying the penetration rate in rural areas was still low. 'Our growth engines include new subscribers from rural villages, where mobile penetration is only 19 per cent, compared with almost 40 per cent in the cities,' he said. 'Some urban users also have more than one phone number, while more business applications delivered through the mobile network are also driving our business.' The industry restructuring was on track and unlikely to be affected by the establishment of the Ministry of Industry and Information, Mr Wang said. 'The restructuring should not be affected as the new ministry would help push the macro-regulatory work in the market,' he said. 'The industry restructuring aims to make better use of resources. It's positive for the market. In fact, there is room for all operators to explore in the future. The companies should be well-prepared to compete globally with their own branding.' He said he did not know when the restructuring would begin.