China Lost Millions of Cell Phone Users in 2020: Official Data

February 7, 2021 Updated: February 7, 2021

China recently issued conflicting sets of data for the number of cell phone and landline users in the country. But the data all reflect a net loss of millions of cell phone users, leading some to speculate whether the decline was due to the economic downturn, pandemic-related deaths, or something else all together.

Today, nearly every Chinese person needs a cell phone to commute into major cities. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities mandate citizens to input their health information into a cellphone app, which then generates a QR code that determines a person’s risk of getting the disease and thus, whether the person can pass through security checkpoints.

The code is scanned for entering a residential compound, taking a bus or metro, visiting a grocery store, and so on.

Thus, the drop in users is unusual given that there is a greater, not lesser, need for cell phones.

“It’s hard to find a credible reason to explain why so many cellphone users dropped in China when the market had a big need for it in 2020,” said U.S.-based China affairs commentator Tang Jingyuan in a phone interview.

“Owning a cellphone is very cheap in China…In other words, people won’t end phone service because of the cost issue in general,” Tang added.

For comparison, in 2019, the number of Chinese cellphone users went up by 35.25 million, while landline users dropped by 1.05 million, according to data from China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

Landline phones have become less of a necessity following the widespread use of cellphones, and thus, its use has been on a downward trend. But the drop in cellphone users is hard to explain.

Tang noted that with the Chinese regime’s underreporting of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic, “even if a small percentage of the dropped users are people who died of COVID-19, the number is shocking.”

The Epoch Times previously reported that China lost 21 million cellphone users from November 2019 to February 2020. At that time, the MIIT claimed the reason was due to the bad economy.

Conflicting Data

Telecommunication World is a weekly magazine that was founded and managed by MIIT.

On Jan. 23, the magazine published on its website a statistical bulletin about the Chinese telecommunications business in 2020.

According to the bulletin, “the whole country lost 16.4 million phone users in 2020, and the total number of users dropped to 1.776 billion.” In detail, cellphone users dropped by 7.28 million to 1.594 billion, while landline users dropped by 9.13 million to 182 million.”

However, these numbers are conflicted with the numbers published by mobile carriers and on the MIIT website.

China only has three mobile carriers, China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom. They recently published their performance reports.

The largest, China Mobile, announced that it lost 8.359 million mobile users in 2020 and had a total of 941.918 million mobile users by the end of 2020.

China Telecom announced that it gained 15.45 million mobile users in 2020 and had a total of 351.02 million users by the end of 2020.

China Unicom announced that it had lost 12.664 million mobile users in 2020, for a total of 305.811 million users.

Judging from that data, there was a net loss of 5.573 million mobile users (-8.359 + 15.45 – 12.664) in 2020.

On Jan. 22, the MIIT announced on its website the total number of phone users by the end of 2020, showing that China had 181.9 million landline users and 1.594 billion cell phone users.

MIIT did not have figures for the end of 2019, but did release data for November 2019—before the pandemic spread widely in China.

Then, comparing the November 2019 data to the December 2020 data, the number of cell phone users fell by 6.89 million, while landline users dropped by 8.92 million.