China’s three wireless operators reported their October subscriber numbers on Tuesday, with market leader China Mobile breaking through the 700 million subscriber mark.

China Mobile picked up 4.96 million customers as it passed the milestone last month. Its 3G numbers stand at 79 million. Considering that its subscriber base is substantially larger than the population all but a couple countries, China Mobile has a clear lead as the world’s largest carrier, with second-place Vodafone at around 400 million.

China Unicom remains in a distant second overall with 162.8 million 2G subscribers, but its 70 million 3G customers are notable, especially since it only passed 60 million in July. China Mobile did outpace China Unicom in 3G growth last month, but it could be a temporary upswing, as the arrival of the iPhone 5 later this year should give China Unicom a bump.

In third place, China Telecom had 155.42 total mobile subscribers, of which 62.74 million were on 3G. It saw 3.02 million new 3G subscribers during the month, though some of those were conversions from preexisting 2G customers, since the company had a net gain of 2.9 million users last month. China Telecom is gearing up to launch the iPhone 5 as well, and it began taking preorders on Tuesday, though it has yet to specify a release date.

The combined total of wireless subscribers in China has easily passed the 1 billion mark, making it by far the world’s largest mobile market. 2012 has been a significant year for 3G adoption in the country, as China Mobile has brought on over 27 million 3G customers since the beginning of the year, China Unicom has picked up roughly 30 million and China Telecom has gained 26 million. Assuming that new subscribers remain on track for the final two months of the year, the number of new 3G customers in China in 2012 should top 100 million.

China Unicom said earlier this year that it expects revenue from 3G service to overtake its 2G business for the first time this year. In the first half of the year, 3G represented about 45 percent of the carrier’s revenue. Meanwhile, China Telecom is doubling down on 3G by purchasing its 3G network infrastructure from its parent company for $13.3 billion.

While the Chinese mobile market leads the world in terms of size, it is behind by a generation in terms of speed. While 3G adoption has been ramping up in China, more developed markets have already made the jump to 4G standards. Chinese carriers have begun testing their 4G networks, but it will still be a while before consumer are able to make use of them.

(hat tip Marbridge Daily)

Image credit: AFP / Getty Images