China Mobile's multi-year deal with Apple could help encourage more domestic users to move to 3G and 4G, and it could open up a huge new market for the iPhone maker.
China Mobile Ltd. will sell the Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPhone 5S and 5C on the mainland. Apple will support the operator's 4G Long Term Evolution Time Division Duplex (LTE TDD) network and 3G (TD-SCDMA) network with the smartphones. (See: Defining 4G: What the Heck Is LTE TDD?)
China Mobile says it has more than 1.2 million GSM (2G), TD-SCDMA, and LTE TDD base stations and more than 4.2 million WiFi access points deployed. By the end of 2013, the operator says, its 4G services will be available in 16 cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. By the end of 2014, it plans to have rolled out more than 500,000 4G base stations, which will cover more than 340 cities with 4G service. (See: China Holds Key to LTE TDD.)
China Mobile has nearly 760 million wireless subscribers, making it the largest mobile operator in the world. However, most of these users are still on 2G connections. Apple's push into the market may help encourage more users on to the 3G and nascent 4G networks, assuming that consumers are willing to spend on the phones and the plans.
Apple also says the China Mobile iPhone supports major cellular network standards, making a global phone a reality for China Mobile customers.
Even if the China Mobile iPhones generate only modest sales, they will still likely give 4G LTE TDD (also called TD-LTE) a boost. Notably, it will make a 4G LTE TDD iPhone more likely in other parts of the world, too.
Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) is deploying the technology as part of its Spark network update. It is currently using Clearwire's LTE TDD network and working on infrastructure updates. (See: Sprint Sparks It in Chicago and Unknown Document 705875.)
Apple and China Mobile will start pre-sales of the phones on Dec. 25. The devices will be available in stores on Jan. 17.
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading