Apple chief executive Tim Cook has hailed a deal with China Mobile as a “watershed” moment for his company, ahead of the iPhone’s launch on the world’s largest mobile phone network.
China Mobile is the world’s largest mobile phone company by subscribers, with over 700 million customers using the network.
To put that figure into perspective, China Mobile’s subscriber base is twice the population of the US, and accounts for roughly two-thirds of the Chinese mobile market.
Until now, Apple while Apple devices were sold through the two other Chinese mobile carriers, China Telecom and China Unicom, China Mobile has not carried Apple devices.
This, in turn, has limited Apple’s ability to penetrate the lucrative Chinese market, which is the largest smartphone market in the world by volume.
According to some figures, this has prevented Apple becoming a top five vendor in China, with Samsung claiming around 18.3% of the market, followed by Lenovo on 12.6%, Coolpad on 11%, ZTE with 8.8% and Huawei on 8.7%.
China Mobile also uses a proprietary 4G protocol called TD-LTE, rather than the FD-LTE networks used by almost all other carriers globally. This has meant that even an iPhone imported from overseas will not work on the carrier’s 4G network.
In a joint statement issued on December 22nd last year, Apple and China Mobile announced they had struck a deal, following years of negotiations, which will see the iPhone launch on China Mobile on January 17.
“Apple’s iPhone is very much loved by millions of customers around the world. We know there are many China Mobile customers and potential new customers who are anxiously awaiting the incredible combination of iPhone on China Mobile’s leading network,” China Mobile Chairman Xi Guohua said.
“We are delighted that iPhone on China Mobile will support our 4G/TD-LTE and 3G/TD-SCDMA networks, providing customers with high-speed mobile service.”
In an interview with US business news channel CNBC ahead of the launch, Cook described January 17 as a “watershed day” for the company.
“It’s a huge announcement…we’re incredibly impressed with them, we have deep respect for them. We see this as bringing the world’s best smartphone to the very largest and now the fastest network in China.”