There were 188 million mobile phone users in the Asia-Pacific region in June, according to estimates from market researcher Dataquest.

China is the largest market in the region, with 60.6m subscribers. China is predicted to have 76m mobile phone users by Christmas, said Dataquest in the study.

This year, pre-paid services and intense competition in markets such as Hong Kong and South Korea have attracted large numbers of low-yield subscribers. Around 17m people signed up in the second quarter of 2000 alone, the study found.

Telcos are struggling to reverse this slide in average subscriber revenue by introducing more attractive, and expensive, packages. In particular, they are focusing on mobile Internet products, ahead of the rollout of third-generation (3G) and interim 2.5G (such as GPRS) services over next two years, Dataquest said. These services are what big business calls the ‘value add’, where products are offered on top of a seemingly cheap service to boost profits.

Rapid growth in China has been partly driven by the success of the second operator China United, which has boosted its market share to 18 percent through a combination of improved infrastructure and favourable government policies. It can now compete on a more equal footing with market leader China Mobile, Dataquest said.

In the Philippines, operators are having some success introducing higher-priced service plans, introducing SMS (short message service) coupled with aggressive handset subsidies and prepaid services.

In Japan, mobile internet services and new colour displays on mobile handsets have helped spur subscriber growth. In developing markets such as China, India and Indonesia, there is fairly limited interest in mobile data services, but still plenty of room for traditional subscriber growth, with structural reform and some consolidation likely to promote competition and network investment, Dataquest said.