The Top 10 Asia Pacific Operators in 2006

Over the last few quarters there has been little or no change at the top of the list of the Asia Pacific region's largest operators. China Mobile is still the number one and is still by far the largest mobile operator in the world, with the best part of 300m customers as at December 2006. However, this is not to suggest that the Asia Pacific mobile market is anything other than highly dynamic - five of the ten largest companies in the region were not in the top ten last year and two were barely in the top 20.
The main difference between this year and the end of 2005 is the appearance of no fewer than five companies from the Indian sub-continent, four of them from India itself.
At the end of December, as noted, China Mobile headed the list with 299.9m customers, or 28.7% of the region's 1.05bn total. This, in fact, represents a material loss of regional market share, as one year earlier the number one accounted for over 30% of the region's 817m customers. China Unicom, the world's second largest national operator shared the same fate - but to an even greater degree. It closed the year with a total of 142.4m customers, or 13.6% of the regional total. That's a full two percentage points down on the 2005 figure. This is by far the largest drop in market share in the region and in fact, it is measurable on a global scale - Unicom accounted for 5.86% of 2005's subscribers but only 5.26% of the 2006 total. Only one other member of the top ten - Japan's KDDI - accounted for a declining proportion of the global total year on year.
Japan has two representatives on the list, the aforementioned KDDI and DoCoMo, which is the third largest company in the region. The Japanese number one ended 2006 with 52.2m customers, almost exactly 5% of the regional total. This is a marginal year on year increase, which is mirrored at the global level with a rise from 1.84% to 1.93%. Fourth place is taken by Telkomsel, as it was last year. The Indonesian number one is some way behind DoCoMo, with 35.6m customers, and the main threat to DoCoMo's third place probably comes from further west, from India. Indian companies account for four of the remaining six places and as we shall see in the next section, all are growing dramatically. Bharti is the largest of the four, with 31.97m customers, which gives it fifth place. It was eighth last year. During the last twelve months Bharti has added more than one percent to its regional market share, which has risen from 2.00% to 3.06%. It now has comfortably more than one percent of the global market.

Bharti's growth has been matched by Reliance, which has moved into the top ten from 11th place last year. It ended 2006 with just under 30m customers, or 2.87% regional market share. The next company is on the way down - and perhaps out - of the top ten. KDDI added a fair number of customers to close 2006 with 25.48m, but dropped from fifth to seventh losing relative status along the way. In 2005, it had a 2.60% market share in the region and just under one percent globally; these percentages have now dropped to 2.44% and 0.94% respectively. With numbers eight, nine and ten all growing far faster, a drop to tenth next year seems inevitable. KDDI is helped by the fact that numbers 11 to 16 are all heading in the same (relative) direction.
India's BSNL seems certain to overtake it, if not in the first quarter, then the second. BSNL moved up from 13th to eighth, ending the year with 23.62m customers, for a gain of just under 0.5% in regional market share. However, BSNL's position is not invulnerable and in all probability, it will be overtaken by its national rival Hutch, which Vodafone is in the process of acquiring. Hutch has moved from 16th to ninth, the largest positional gain over the year. It began the period with 1.40% market share and ended it with 2.23%, which equates to 23.3m customers.
Finally, tenth place is taken by Pakistan Mobile, which now has 22.49m customers. It too moved up seven places during the year, but added slightly less to its market share in the process than Hutch.
What of the rest of last year's list? The sub-continentals have relegated them to a position outside the regional top ten and in all probability that is where they will remain from now on. SK Telecom, last year's number six is now eleventh, AIS is down from seventh place to twelfth, Smart has fallen from ninth to 13th and Softbank, the former Vodafone Japan, has collapsed to 16th, after tenth last year. Proportionately, the largest losers were SK and Softbank, which now account for 45bp and 37bp less of the regional market than they did last year.
We should point out here that as at the time of writing we await with baited breath news of the effects of the Indian Department of Telecommunications mobile customer verification procedure. Preliminary figures from CDMA/GSM operator Reliance show that disconnections from unverified accounts amount for 15% of its total base, and the numbers could be worse from the pure GSM companies. However, whilst the Indian operators may fall in the rankings as a result, the cull is a one-off, and there is no doubt that they will quickly recover the lost ground.

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