China Mobile is still in talks with Apple to get the iPhone on its network, according to China Mobile Chairman Wang Jianzhou as reported by Reuters. Speaking to reporters at the ITU world telecom event in Geneva, Wang said, “We have not yet got agreement with Apple. Apple promised to provide, when they develop the iPhone for LTE, that it will include TD-LTE. We are discussing the details.” No timeframe was given for the two sides to reach an agreement.
LTE is synonymous with 4G, the next generation of wireless offering higher data speeds, and TD-LTE is China Mobile’s unique implementation of LTE. Prior to the iPhone 4S announcement, there was much speculation that the new iPhone would be a 4G phone, but it looks like China Mobile will be waiting for the iPhone 5 before it can get an LTE iPhone.
That hasn’t stopped over 10 million China Mobile customers from using current iPhones on the network, however. Wang credits the network of Apple Retail Stores in China with allowing China Mobile to benefit from the iPhone effect. “The total number of iPhones in China Mobile’s network has reached 10 million — and we didn’t pay any subsidies,” he said.
That’s a drop in the bucket compared to what China Mobile stands to gain by having its own next generation iPhone. China Mobile has at the present over 630 million customers, although most are lower end users of mostly text and voice. But the iPhone and Apple is hot right now, and with China Unicom being the only carrier with the iPhone, China Mobile is looking to entice customers to maybe move up to a smartphone.
The question is, when will it happen? With the iPhone 4S just released, and Apple seemingly content to stay with a one year upgrade cycle, an iPhone that supports LTE would most likely be another year off. And since there is no definite agreement between Apple and China Mobile yet, it may be that China Mobile will just have to wait patiently until it gets the iPhone.
China was Apple’s second largest market last quarter. CEO Tim Cook, speaking at Apple’s earnings call last week: “Certainly in my lifetime, I’ve never seen a country with as many people rising into the middle class that aspire to buy products that Apple makes. And so I think it’s an area of enormous opportunity, and it has quickly become number two on our list of top revenue countries.”