Speculation is mounting Apple is close to reaching a deal that would see the iPhone sold to customers of China Mobile, which is the world’s largest mobile carrier by number of subscribers.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Apple has asked its contract manufacturing partner, Foxconn, to prepare to add China Mobile to the list of carriers receiving the low-cost iPhone 5C.
However, their sources say it remains unclear whether the two companies have signed an official agreement or when the delivery is likely to take place.
According to a separate report in Bloomberg, sources within Apple say the two parties are close to reaching an agreement, although the deal is unlikely to be announced during the company’s launch event for the iPhone 5C and 5S.
As SmartCompany reported last week, Apple is planning to hold launch events for the two devices in both Beijing and California.
The news follows a high-level meeting in late January between Apple chief executive Tim Cook met Cook met with China Mobile’s chairman Xi Guohua to negotiate the release of Apple iPhone on China Mobile’s network.
Apple launching a version of its iPhone that works with China Mobile’s proprietary TD-SCDMA network of the iPhone would be a significant announcement, as China Mobile is the world’s largest carrier with an estimated 700 million subscribers.
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.
Currently, Apple’s iPhone devices are not available in TD-SCDMA versions, making them incompatible with China Mobile’s 3G and 4G networks.
While the iPhone is available in China through China Mobile’s competitors, including China Unicom and China Telecom, and Reuters reports the latest versions are set to be released on those networks, negotiations between Apple and China Mobile have stalled for years over the topic of revenue-sharing between the two companies.
This, in turn, has limited Apple’s ability to penetrate the lucrative Chinese market.