China Mobile is close to striking a deal with Apple for the sale of the US-based firm’s iPhone handsets. Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources familiar with the development, reported that a deal had been finalised, although this has since been denied by the cellco, with AFP quoting a spokesperson for the operator as saying: ‘Talks between China Mobile and Apple on cooperation are still going on and we currently do not have anything to announce.’
If finalised, the agreement is expected to help kick-start China Mobile’s new 4G services, whilst giving Apple a boost in the largest mobile market in the world. China Mobile is expected to commercially launch its 4G networks and new 4G brand, ‘He’ – meaning ‘harmonious’ in Chinese – on 18 December. The pact has been made possible by the recent licensing of Time Division Long Term Evolution (TD-LTE) networks by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), as several versions of the US manufacturer’s devices are compatible with the technology. The two companies have long been unable to reach an agreement, as Apple is reluctant to develop a handset compatible with China Mobile’s home-grown TD-SCDMA 3G platform, which is only used in China and Taiwan. China Mobile’s rivals, China Unicom and China Telecom already offer iPhone handsets and have successfully leveraged that advantage to take a substantial slice of the 3G market. According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, at the end of September 2013, China Mobile had signed up 169.5 million of its 755.19 million wireless subscribers to 3G services, representing around 44.9% of the wireless data segment – compared to its 62.5% share of the total wireless market. By comparison, Unicom had 111.63 million 3G users, or 29.5% of the 3G space whilst Telecom controlled a 25.6% 3G market share with 96.48 million subscribers.