China's second largest mobile operator ChinaUnicom ( CHU ) added 3.60 million subscribers in November, up 1.9% from the prior month. This takes the company's total customer base to 196 million.
The company's GSM subscriber base rose to 159.44 million with the net addition of 0.21 million customers, while its 3G subscriber base increased to 36.53 million with net addition of 3.38 million in November. ChinaUnicom added more 3G subscribers in November compared to 2.92 million in the last month. The company has already surpassed its 25 million 3G user goal for fiscal 2011.
The company's 3G business is performing well and the momentum is expected to continue well into the future. 3G remains a compelling opportunity and represents the single biggest driver of the company's long-term growth. For the full year, capital spending on 3G network is estimated atRMB 73.80 billion.
We believe ChinaUnicom will continue to make significant progress in expanding economies of scale in 3G, broadband and other businesses that will likely improve its overall revenue and profitability. The company is offering 3G services in collaboration with Research In Motion Limited 's ( RIMM">RIMM ) BlackBerry phones. Additionally, the company has the exclusive right to distribute Apple Inc. 's ( AAPL">AAPL ) iPhone in China. ChinaUnicom is also in talks with Apple to sell iPad by the end of 2011.
ChinaUnicom's 3G and fixed-line broadband businesses have been ramping up since last year. However, these businesses are expected to remain under pressure due to increasing depreciation and amortization expenses; networks, operations and support expenses, as well as selling expenses for the remainder of this year. We believe these expenses will have an adverse effect on the company's future profitability, free cash flow and margins.
Further, higher handset subsidies and increased costs related to 3G service deployments will continue to beheadwinds for the company. Despite these challenges, we expect ChinaUnicom to benefit from new users this year.
ChinaUnicom is offering handsets at subsidized rates with lower 3G service plans for multi-year contracts to retain existing customers and add new ones. This will weigh on the company's future overall average revenue per user. Moreover, ChinaUnicom remains significantly challenged by aggressive nationwide 3G service rollouts by its peers China Mobile ( CHL">CHL ) and China Telecom Corp. ( CHA ).
We currently have a long-term Neutral rating on ChinaUnicom . The stock retains aZacks #3 Rank for the short term (1-3 months).