The head of China Telecom on Monday delivered a veiled criticism of Beijing regulators as his company – the country’s leading telecoms operator – released annual results showing voice call revenues fell for the first time last year.

Wang Xiaochu, China Telecom chairman and CEO, made clear that he sees the voice call decline as demonstrating the need for the introduction of “third-generation” mobile phone services after years of regulatory delay.

“This decline is a positive signal for bringing forward 3G licensing because the regulating authorities can see the situation [we are in],” Mr Wang said.

China Telecom, which has applied for a 3G licence, has been eyeing the wireless market as a growth area for some time, said Mark Natkins, managing director of Beijing-based consultancy Marbridge Consulting.

Mr Wang on Monday also reiterated his company’s desire to acquire mobile network assets.

He cited the premier Wen Jiabao’s working report presented at the National Party Congress earlier this month, which named telecoms as one of four sectors targeted for reform. “But we have yet to receive any concrete information or notice from the regulatory authorities” about the timetable of the reforms, Mr Wang said.

The comments highlight growing frustration with China’s regulators, particularly over the pace of introducing 3G services to the world’s biggest mobile market.

China Telecom said total voice revenues fell nearly
2 per cent last year to Rmb120.8bn ($15.6bn). Non-voice revenues grew to Rmb49bn to make up 29 per cent of the company’s operating revenue, partly offsetting the decline in voice revenue. Net profit still fell 2.7 per cent to Rmb27.1bn.

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