China Mobile revealed on Wednesday that it is in negotiations with Apple to bring the iPhone to its network. Chairman Xi Guohua said during a shareholders meeting, I can’t give you too many details, but I’d like to repeat that both sides do hope to boost our cooperation.”
Xi was responding to questions about when the world’s largest carrier would begin offering the iPhone to its subscribers. As of earlier this year, China Mobile, which had 667 million subscribers as of March, is now the only carrier in China not selling Apple’s handset.
Having the iPhone on China Mobile is expected to be quite popular. Even though the company does not currently sell the device, the company has more than 15 million iPhone users on its network. It was projected earlier this year that China Unicom could sell 24 million iPhones in 2013.
China Unicom was Apple’s first carrier partner in the country. The wireless operator began selling the iPhone 3GS in 2009.
Even without China Mobile, Apple is seeing excellent growth in iPhone sales in Greater China. Sales of the device in the March 2012 quarter were five times those of the previous year.
One of the main obstacles in the way of a deal with China Mobile is that the carrier operates a home-grown 3G wireless network which would require a separate device.
There has been speculation that Apple would wait until its next-generation iPhone to sign with China Mobile. Morgan Stanley’s Katy Huberty believes Apple is likely to make use of a Qualcomm quad-mode baseband chip that could make the iPhone compatible with “all 3G and LTE network flavors.”