China Mobile has finally signed a deal to offer Apple iPhones on its network, an agreement that took years to reach, reports the Wall Street Journal. China Mobile is the world’s largest mobile carrier, with more than 700 million subscribers, and is the last of China’s three major carriers to offer the iPhone. We have emailed Apple and China Mobile for more information.
The reported deal comes after two months of signs that the rollout of iPhone’s on China Mobiles network is imminent. The launch date is expected to coincide with the Dec. 18 China Mobile conference in Guangzhou, when the carrier is supposed to reveal more information about its new 4G LTE network.
In September, the WSJ reported that Apple is preparing to ship the iPhone 5S and 5C to China Mobile and earlier this week, China Mobile began quietly taking pre-orders for both models on a website owned by one of its subsidiaries.
China’s top three carriers recently received licenses from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to start operating 4G networks. In September, reports emerged that Apple’s newest iPhone models will be compatible with China Mobile’s network. The completion of its 4G network was an important sticking point for China Mobile to agree to start selling iPhones. One of the major roadblocks was that China Mobile operates on a different 3G standard that was developed in part by the Chinese government, and Apple said that the carrier’s proprietary network as too unreliable. China Mobile, on the other hand, did not want to agree to Apple’s sales volume guarantees.
China is currently Apple’s third biggest market and CEO Tim Cook has said he anticipates it will eventually become the company’s largest. But over the past year, Apple has quickly lost market share there to Android handsets from Samsung and domestic handset makers, as its revenue also slowed down in the U.S. But deal with China Mobile may give it a boost. Research firm Trefis says the deal with the carrier may result in the sale of an additional 20 million iPhones in 2014, a 17% increase from the year before.