Lost in the shuffle when discussing the iPhone in China is China Telecom, the country’s third largest mobile carrier behind China Unicom (which has the iPhone) and China Mobile (which may be getting it soon).
Now comes word via Reuters that China Telecom will begin carrying the iPhone sometime before the end of 2011. As of May, China Telecom boasted approximately 105.7 million subscribers. To put that in perspective, that’s just slightly larger than the number of Verizon Wireless customers here in the US.
In May, China Telecom Chairman Wang Xiaochu told a news conference that the carrier had contacted Apple to launch the iPhone based on CDMA (code division multiple access) technology.
“It’s expected to happen this year. China Telecom already has the required technology and it all hinges on the content of the agreement. As we all know, it’s not easy to negotiate with Apple,” a source close to the company, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters on Wednesday.
That’s certainly promising for Apple as it looks to extend its reach into China even further. But the real prize out east is striking a deal with China Mobile which boasts well over 600 million subscribers. One lingering glitch to striking a deal with them, however, is that the carrier employs a proprietary TD-SCDMA network and Apple thus far hasn’t been willing to modify its hardware to run on that cell network. But 600 million subscribers is nothing to scoff at and with reports that Apple COO and acting CEO Tim Cook recently visited China Mobile headquarters in late June, the iPhone may very well be available on all three major Chinese carriers by 2012.
Remember that the iPhone 4 was quite a hit when it arrived to China Unicom this past September, selling over 100,000 units in just 4 days and processing well over 200,000 pre-orders. This, of course, was in stark contrast to tepid sales of the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 3G when they first went on sale in China in 2009.
Lastly, It remains unclear whether or not China Telecom will be carrying Apple’s next-gen iPhone or only the iPhone 4.