China Mobile Denies Early iPhone Sales, as LTE Licenses Are Secured

China Mobile has received licenses for LTE, a prerequisite for selling iPhones. Rumors say it will make an iPhone announcement Dec. 18.

Is China Mobile finally accepting preorders for the Apple iPhone 5S and 5C?

A spokesperson for the carrier, which is the largest in the world and has yet to officially sell an Apple smartphone, says the answer is no. However, the truth may be closer to not yet.

Fortune, on Dec. 2, snapped a screen grab from what was purported to be a subsidiary of China Mobile near Shanghai. But the next day, a China Mobile spokesperson told CNN's Beijing bureau that the site wasn't official.

The spokesperson, however, "left open the possibility that it was some kind of test or experiment," Fortune reported in an update to its Dec. 2 story.

Fortune added that the site, showing the new iPhones alongside the China Mobile logo, had been taken down by the evening of Dec. 3, Beijing time, and by Dec. 4 a new site was up. It approximately states (per Google Translate) that it will soon "launch the following brands" and that customers should make an appointment. Included on the list are the iPhone 5S and 5C.

China Mobile's Dec. 18 Event

China Mobile has an event scheduled for Dec. 18, when it plans to introduce a new mobile services brand, The Wall Street Journal reported Nov. 21. It is widely expected that the announcement will focus on iPhones.

China Mobile hasn't yet offered an iPhone because its 3G network was incompatible with the iPhones' technology. That changed, though, with the introduction of the iPhone 5S and 5C and China Mobile's initial rollout of an LTE network.

"China Mobile executives have said iPhone subscriptions likely would come only after the company introduces its 4G platform," said The Journal.

On Dec. 4, Reuters confirmed that China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom have all been awarded 4G TD-LTE (Time Division Long Term Evolution) licenses—which "will mostly benefit China Mobile, whose 4G network is heavily based on TD-LTE" instead of FDD-LTE (Frequency Division Duplex LTE).

The carrier issued a statement, said the report, acknowledging the award of 4G and fixed-line broadband licenses, adding that it will "collaborate with the supply chain to make an all-out effort to push forward the construction and operation of 4G mobile communications."

Ericsson announced Nov. 19 that it was selected by China Mobile to deploy TD LTE technology in "15 key provinces in China [that are] home to 63 percent of China's population and include the top three provinces in terms of [Gross Domestic Product]."

China Mobile had 759 million subscribers, as of October, and offering the iPhone would help it to keep adding customers—a thing it has recently found more challenging to do than its competitors, which have iPhones and faster networks.

Apple, which sells far fewer iPhones than Samsung does smartphones, could also use the sales boost that would come from even 5 or 10 percent of China Mobile's base.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has said he "strongly believes" that China will surpass the United States to become Apple's largest market.