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November 20, 2009

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Telco signals busier call traffic

CHINA Mobile, the world's top mobile carrier by subscribers, yesterday said its call traffic has bounced back to pre-global downturn levels, lifted by a rebounding economy.

China Mobile's international business dropped during the crisis but has now returned to normal levels, Chairman Wang Jianzhou said at an event in Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong Province.

A return of migrant workers to big cities, following their mass departures as work dried up during the downturn, is also helping to drive calling traffic, Wang added.

"The financial crisis has mostly passed, and we are now basically back to normal levels," he said. "The biggest factor before was a drop in international business, but now that's recovered to normal levels."

Shares of China Mobile and its two main rivals, China Unicom and China Telecom, have been relative laggards on Hong Kong's stock market this year, amid concerns about growing competition under a recent industry overhaul that has eroded average revenue per user, or ARPU.

China Mobile shares are flat this year, while China Unicom and China Telecom shares are up 13 percent and 23 percent, all well behind a 57-percent jump for the benchmark Hang Seng Index.

China is the world's biggest mobile market, with about 700 million subscribers. But that still leaves about half the nation's 1.3 billion people with no mobile service, most of them in poorer, more rural areas.

Wang said he expects ARPU to continue to drop in China's competitive domestic market, while subscribers' minutes of use remains flat.

Separately, he said China Mobile, which is technically domiciled overseas due to its Hong Kong listing, stands ready to make a highly anticipated initial public offering at home once regulators roll out new rules allowing such listings.

"We've done all the preparations and have chosen to list on the international board in Shanghai," Wang said. "We hope the regulator will finalize the related rules soon."



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