China Telecom Corp Ltd, China's smallest mobile carrier by subscribers, expects to boost the number of its mobile users to 200 million this year, with half of those being third-generation, or 3G, customers.
That compares with its 158 million mobile users and 65.85 million 3G users in November, said Chairman Wang Xiaochu on Monday.
But to achieve that target, Wang urged terminal makers to offer more products to Chinese users.
He said he expected the company - also China's biggest fixed-line carrier - to sell 80 million terminals, including handsets, wireless network cards and others, this year, 80 percent of which will be smartphones, the fastest-expanding product segment among Chinese mobile phone users.
China Telecom started offering network services for Apple's iPhones last March, the second Chinese mobile carrier to introduce iPhones on contract after China Unicom (Hong Kong) Ltd.
Analysts consider it crucial this year for China Telecom to increase its 3G user base.
"If it doesn't seize the time to attract users, China Mobile may turn the tables on it when it offers even more advanced fourth-generation services in the years to come, provides better operations and richer funding," said Xiang Ligang, a Beijing-based analyst and founder of the industry website Cctime.com.
He said China Telecom and China Unicom, the country's second-largest mobile carrier, have better coverage and infrastructure in their 3G services, compared with China Mobile Ltd, the No 1 player, but time is running out.
China Mobile leads its domestic rivals, measured by mobile subscribers.
However, in the 3G telecom service market, the competition is more evenly matched.
By November, China Mobile had 82.43 million 3G users, followed by China Unicom's 73.32 million and China Telecom's 65.85 million.
China Mobile is pinning its hopes on 4G and its network is considered better prepared than those of its smaller rivals.
Ji Chendong, a telecom analyst with KPMG China, said China Telecom is also at a crossroads in choosing a 4G technology standard.
Wang said the company is awaiting official approval on the standards it plans to adopt.
China had 1.1 billion mobile users by November and almost 20 percent of them were 3G users, according to figures from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
China Telecom vs. China Mobile