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Hong Kong's HKT hit with 7% fall in mobile subscribers

1st-half net profit rises 3%, but sales slide 5% on weak handset business

HKT's group Managing Director Alex Arena, right, attends the earnings briefing on Aug. 9. (Photo by Jason Tan)

HONG KONG -- Major Hong Kong telecommunications player HKT had a lackluster first half, with the company announcing on Wednesday that net profit rose 3% on the year to 2.4 billion Hong Kong dollars ($307 million) despite a 5% decline in revenue to HK$15.7 billion.

The fixed-line and mobile telecommunications unit of tycoon Richard Li Tzar-kai's PCCW took a hit from lower sales of handsets, mainly the result of a dearth of major new models. 

Revenue from HKT's mobile operations grew a mere 1%. More customers upgraded to its premium services, and data demand increased, but the total number of mobile subscribers shrank 7% to 4.2 million. The number of postpaid customers grew 2% to 3.2 million, but the number of prepaid users tumbled 24% to 1 million due to an adjustment of the product mix.

Average revenue per user rose slightly, climbing to HK$230 from HK$228.

Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization -- representing net cash flows from the company's businesses -- advanced 2% to HK$6 billion.

"The first half was tough amid competition in the mobile and broadband segments," group Managing Director Alex Arena told reporters at the earnings briefing on Wednesday.

However, he was optimistic. "We started to see signs of a revitalization of the economy in the retail sector," Arena said. "Tourist arrivals are picking up." 

The company said it would continue to enhance its Tap & Go e-wallet service, launched in 2015, aiming to grab a bigger slice of the city's growing mobile payment segment.

HKT is also boosting investment in the fifth-generation mobile standard, eyeing future demand.

When asked by reporters about local rival Hutchison Telecommunications Hong Kong's move to sell its fixed-line network business in July, Arena refused to comment on the matter, saying only that HKT would continue to focus on its fixed-line business.

Hutchison Telecommunications, a unit of tycoon Li Ka-shing's flagship company CK Hutchison Holdings, sold the business to Asia Cube Global Communications for HK$14.5 billion in cash so that it could invest in its mobile operations.

Shares in HKT closed 0.6% lower at HK$10.22 in Hong Kong on Wednesday, before the interim results were released.

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