Ministry, experts disagree over Vietnam's surge in 3G subscribers

Thanh Nien News

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3G subscribers have increased by 24 million so far this year, according to the Ministry of Information and Communications. Photo credit: VinaPhone 3G subscribers have increased by 24 million so far this year, according to the Ministry of Information and Communications. Photo credit: VinaPhone

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Vietnam's population of 3G subscribers increased by three million in the first half of this year to more than 24 million despite two price hikes last year.
Meanwhile, the number of 2G subscribers fell by about five million, according to a mid-year report released by the Ministry of Information and Communications.
There are currently a total of 121.1 million mobile phone subscribers (in a country of 90 million) of which 20 percent utilize 3G. Vietnam has just seven million landline phone subscribers. 
The communication ministry said Vietnam has seen significant investment in its communication infrastructure, especially its 3G system.
“Companies including VinaPhone, MobiFone and Viettel have facilitated investment in the network based on their prior commitments,” VietNamNet quoted the ministry’s report as saying.
According to the report, total revenues from postal and telecommunications services in the past six months were VND122 trillion (US$5.73 billion)--just 44 percent of the government's target.
Total revenues from exporting phones and accessories in the first five months hit VND10.6 billion, a 30.6 percent increase over last year.
Vietnam began offering 3G service in October 2009 and the number of subscribers has surged ever since.
However, the country's three telecom giants, VinaPhone, MobiFone and Viettel each raised 3G rates twice last year, prompting criticism about high-prices for low-quality service.
The three leading telecommunication firms hold more than 95 percent of the market share and raised their average monthly fee from VND50,000 to VND70,000. In April, they raised their rates from VND40,000 to VND50,000.
According to the Ministry of Information and Telecommunications, Vietnam had around 20 million 3G subscribers in 2013. If half of them continue to use their services by paying an additional VND20,000 a month, the three firms will earn a combined VND200 billion (US$9.47 million) every month.
In its latest report, the communication ministry said the fee hikes hadn't affected 3G development in Vietnam.
However, VnExpress news quoted an anonymous expert as saying that the statistics don't accurately reflect actual industry growth.
“The report didn't explain how they decide a subscriber is 2G or 3G,” the expert told the news site.
Many tablets and smart phones have both 2G and 3G functions, he said.
The expert attributed 3G growth to users who purchase additional SIM cards with lower fees, he said.
Dinh Ngoc Hai, a subscriber in Hanoi, recently asked his younger brother to buy him a “student SIM” which charges him lower 3G fees.
“The increase seemed rather unremarkable to me. But no one wants to pay more for a low-quality service,” he said.

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