After years of negotiations, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) finally inked a deal with China Mobile to bring its iPhones to the world's largest carrier starting Jan. 17. The agreement is expected to significantly expand Apple's business in the world's biggest smartphone market.
Apple said pre-registration for the devices will begin Dec. 25 and sales will start Jan. 17. Pricing details and availability of the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c for China Mobile will be available at a later date.
The China Mobile iPhones will support its TD-LTE and TD-SCDMA networks. China Mobile officially launched TD-LTE service last week after Chinese regulators granted TD-LTE licenses to the carrier, as well as to its smaller rivals China Unicom and China Telecom. China Mobile, with around 760 million subscribers, is one of the last major carriers that does not currently offer the iPhone.
By the end of the year, China Mobile said its TD-LTE services will be available in 16 cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. By the end of 2014, China Mobile plans to have deployed more than 500,000 TD-LTE base stations, which will cover more than 340 cities with TD-LTE service.
The addition of the iPhone on China Mobile's TD-LTE network, which uses 2.5 GHz spectrum, makes it likely that Apple will eventually introduce an iPhone model that supports Sprint's (NYSE:S) LTE service on the 2.5 GHz spectrum, given the large economies of scale.
China Telecom and China Unicom already carry the iPhone, and many analysts have said that a lack of support from China Mobile is holding Apple's market share down in China, giving openings to rivals such as Samsung Electronics, and Chinese firms Lenovo, Huawei, ZTE and Coolpad. Greater China, including Hong Kong and Taiwan, is Apple's third largest market after the U.S. and Europe in terms of revenue.
"China is an extremely important market for Apple and our partnership with China Mobile presents us the opportunity to bring iPhone to the customers of the world's largest network," Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a statement. "iPhone customers in China are an enthusiastic and rapidly growing group, and we can't think of a better way to welcome in the Chinese New Year than getting an iPhone into the hands of every China Mobile customer who wants one."
Financial analysts have said recently they expect Apple to sell anywhere from between 17 million to 24 million additional new iPhones through China Mobile next year.
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