The idea of an Apple iPhone on Chinas largest mobile network is moving closer to reality. China Mobile Chairman Xi Guohua, at a meeting with shareholders in Beijing, told the audience, Weve been actively talking to Apple on how we can cooperate. I cant give you too many details, but Id like to repeat that both sides do hope to boost our cooperation, according to a May 17 report from the BBC.
Unofficially, China Mobile is said to already support more than 15 million iPhones. The devices were purchased elsewhere but are using China Mobile SIMs to run on the network, though they can only place calls and send text messages at 2G speeds, since the network and the iPhone are incompatiblea major reason China Mobile hasnt officially offered the iPhone yet.
However, as the country transitions to Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technology, and the next iPhone in all likelihood is LTE-enabled, Apple and China Mobile may finally get to cooperate.
The BBC report also adds some color to why China Mobile runs a technology different from the iPhone-friendly networks of its smaller rivals, China Unicom and China Telecom, which have been steadily taking on China Mobiles churning subscribers. BDA China consultant Duncan Clark tells the BBC that China Mobile was anointed by the Chinese government with the dubious prize of getting to deploy Chinas own attempt at a 3G standardan initiative that has been a nightmare for the company, which has aggressively invested in WiFi hotspots as a defensive measure.
Once Chinese authorities approve the new LTE standard, said Clark, the incompatibility issues will be resolved. The catch, he added, is when that will happen; 2014 is his earliest expectation.
China Daily reported May 9 that China is expanding the scale of its LTE trial, after the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) approved the second stage of the trial. The country is promoting a version of LTE called TD-LTE. More commonand used by Verizon Wireless, for exampleis Frequency Division Duplex-Long-Term Evolution (FDD-LTE). A major difference is that TD-LTE uses a single frequency instead of paired spectrum, a benefit in spectrum-scare times. While its thought of as a Chinese solution, EETimes has reported that TD-LTE has the potential for much wider deployments.
China is now Apples second most successful market. During the first quarter of 2012, 5 million iPhones went to China and another 3 million to Hong Kong, Gartner reported May 17. Should China Mobile finally have an iPhone to sell, its 600 million-plus subscribers could do wonders for Apples ability to compete against Samsung, now the worlds top-shipping vendor in both the smartphone and overall mobile phone categories.
Consumers in China have shown themselves to have a tremendous appetite for Apple devices. Stores selling the iPhone 4S sold out of the device within hours of its going on sale. The Hong Kong store and five China retail stores are among Apples highest traffic and highest revenue stores, and Apple has plans to build several more stores there in the next few years.
In April, the BBC reported, as well, on one of the most extreme examples of the passion for Apple products in China: A teenage boy, solicited by an illegal organization in a chat room, sold one of his kidneys in exchange for an iPhone and an iPad.