China’s biggest telecom operator, China Mobile, attempted to locate some of the passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines3786.KU +2.13% Flight 370 by testing whether their cellphones were connected to mobile networks but the carrier wasn’t able to locate any of them, a company executive said.
The tracking of passengers’ mobile phones began shortly after the BoeingBA +1.00% 777 disappeared early Saturday en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, the executive, who declined to be named, said Thursday. The telecom carrier, with more than 770 million subscribers, is the world’s largest wireless carrier by subscribers. According to a passenger list released by Malaysia Airlines, just over half of the 227 passengers on the flight were Chinese citizens.
The executive said China Mobile began the test at the request of family members of some of the passengers that used the carrier’s services as well as the Chinese government. He said none of the mobile phones were connected to a mobile network.
“There are certain limitations to our mobile networks. We won’t be able to track the mobile users if users switched off their phones or the plane is in the air above 10,000 meters or in the deep ocean,” said the executive.
IDC telecom analyst Yolanda Zhang said it is not possible for carriers to track mobile phones even if users are online using a Wi-Fi connection provided by the airline. They need to be on a carrier’s network to track location of users, she said. The Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 didn’t offer passengers a Wi-Fi connection.
Two other major Chinese telecom operators China Unicom0762.HK +0.33% and China TelecomCHA +0.99% declined to comment when contacted Thursday.
The comments came as The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 stayed in the air for about four hours past the time it reached its last confirmed location.
Employees from major Chinese telecom equipment suppliers Huawei and ZTE were among the 227 passengers on the flight, as well as an IBMIBM -0.92% executive.