Call me maybe? Daily airtime for Chinese mobile phone users continues to drop

Telcos in China, as in other markets, are feeling the squeeze from shifting consumer habits.

credit: DFIC

China is the worlds largest mobile phone market with more than 1.58 billion mobile network users but most of them are not making calls anymore.

Latest statistics from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology shows that while the country’s mobile phone market keeps moderate growth in terms of user volume, people are less active in using its chief function – making phone calls.

China’s 1.58 billion mobile phone users include 136 million 3G users and 1.19 billion 4G users. The country’s mobile phone users have made a total of 167.5 billion minutes of calls in February, recording a 6.6% drop from the same month last year.

A typical user makes less than 4 minutes daily calls on average, down more than 30% from five years ago. The decline of airtime is a sign that should worry network carriers, industry observers told KrASIA.

“Traditional network carriers’ market standing has been constantly challenged, and they are facing mounting downward pressure,” said Liu Ruofei, a telecoms analyst at CCID Consulting in Beijing. “User airtime has been on a downward trend over the past few years.”

As messaging apps such as QQ and WeChat are replacing phone calls as people’s primary way to communicate, the effects on the telecom industry have been disruptive, according to Liu.

But there are silver linings because data usage has emerged as the new cash cow for the industry, Liu said. “For most network carriers, phone call airtime is no longer the main revenue channel. The focus, at the moment, is to increase revenue by encouraging more data usage.”

Editor: Nadine Freischlad

Write to Luna Lin at [email protected]