After months of speculation, we now have official world that the iPhone will launch on China Telecom beginning in early March. With China Telecom now on board, Apple now has agreements with two of China’s top 3 carriers – the other being China Unicom. Of course, the big holdout is also the largest, that being China Mobile which boasts over 600 million subscribers.
All told, China is expected to house over 1 billion cell subscribers by the end of 2012. And Putting China Telecom’s size into perspective, it currently has about 106 million subscribers, which makes it just slightly larger than the US-based Verizon.
China Telecom, valued at more than $46 billion but still ranked the smallest of China’s big three carriers, said on Tuesday it would take online applications for the iPhone 4S from
March 2, and aimed to commence sales on March 9, bundling a phone with a service contract.
With China becoming an increasingly important part of Apple’s ongoing efforts towards global expansion, the real prize remains China Mobile. But in striking a deal with China Mobile, there are some technical hurdles Apple first needs to traverse. Note that China Mobile currently employs a proprietary T-SCDMA network and Apple thus far hasn’t shown any indication that it will release an iPhone model with modified hardware to run on said network. But that’s not to say that Apple is completely ignoring China Mobile. Discussions with the world’s largest carrier have reportedly been ongoing for some time now, and Tim Cook even paid a visit to China Mobile HQ in June of 2011.
Back in August, we reported that Steve Jobs had met with various China Mobile executives a number of times in an effort to hammer out a deal. Also note that China Mobile Chairman Wang Jianzhou quietly hinted that Apple was willing to deliver a TD-LTE compatible iPhone.
“We discussed this issue with Apple,” Jianzhou explained in an interview, “we hope Apple will produce a new iPhone with TD-LTE. We have already got a positive answer from Apple.”
Apple’s latest iPhone, the 4S, obviously isn’t LTE capable, perhaps hinting that the iPhone 5 – long rumored to support 4G LTE networks – might be the first iPhone to hit China Mobile.
Some analysts have pegged China, assuming Apple gets the iPhone up and running on the largest carriers there, to be a $70 billion opportunity for Apple.