After much speculation, the Wall Street Journal tonight confirms that China Mobile Ltd. has signed a deal with Apple to offer iPhones. The agreement represents a major opportunity for Apple, having the iPhone available on the world’s largest mobile carrier. With the deal finalized, customers of China Mobile could see the iPhone available sometime later this month. Sources suggest that a December 18th China Mobile conference would likely be a venue for revealing details of the offering.
China Mobile is slated to announce its new 4G network, which is compatible with technology in the iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s. The newest iPhones utilize Qualcomm chips that China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology confirmed today that China Mobile was among a select group of wireless carriers granted licenses to utilize the new high-speed 4G networks. With the licenses in place, it paves the way for the sale of 4G devices, including the new iPhones. Previous reports have indicated Apple’s reluctance to modify hardware to work on the older networks. With the new networks in place, this was no longer an issue, paving the way for the two companies to partner.
Despite the massive market potential in China, Apple has fared particularly well due to a number of factors. Lower cost devices and the inability to finalize a deal with China’s largest carrier among them. Apple took many by surprise in September when they introduced the iPhone 5c with a off-contract price of $549, higher than what some had speculated would constitute a low-cost device that could compete in markets like China. All eyes will be on China Mobile in the coming months to see if the higher quality and Apple brand-cache are enough to compel consumers to spend more for an iPhone.
China Mobile boasts a subscriber base of 740 million, seven times the size of Verizon, which holds the distinction of being the largest carrier in the US. Analysts predict sales in the area of 1.5 million per month, which would give Apple a yearly boost in sales of almost 20 million additional handsets.