China Mobile, the world’s largest wireless company with 665 million subscribers, confirmed Monday that it now hosts 15 million iPhones on its network with an average of 35,000 new iPhone activations each day. Back in October, its network hosted 10 million iPhones. People get excited about T-Mobile USA’s 1 million iPhones, so it is worth pointing out that China Mobile’s number is more than seven times larger than what Sprint has—and it is not even Apple’s official carrier yet.
The real kicker: Those people do not get 3G service as China Mobile’s 3G TD-SCDMA network is incompatible with iPhone 4S. Similar to T-Mobile USA, China Mobile employs a different type of high-speed 4G-radio technology that the iPhone 4S cannot use. As a result, both networks’ customers are relegated to using EDGE/GSM data speeds.
iPhones are sold in China through carrier China Unicom, but that is bound to change soon. China Telecom, the country’s second-largest carrier with 130 million subscribers, will start selling the sought-after smartphone this Friday.
It would seem the China Mobile iPhone is a no brainer as 15 million people already unofficially use the device on China Mobile’s network with many more millions in the 1.33 billion-people market deemed potential subscribers. Another piece of information also indicates that Apple and China Mobile could be in the final stages of negotiations to bring the iPhone to China Mobile’s network. Read on…
According to a Chinese newspaper, China Mobile said March 1: “Apple had updated the system of all iPhone 4S handsets manufactured after Feb. 8, 2012 to fully support its network.” The issue affecting many iPhone owners on China Mobile’s network manifested itself in the inability to properly activate SIM cards. According to the paper, “The signal problems were caused by iPhone 4S handsets’ GSM chips, which only supports the P frequency band (885-915MHZ), but does not support the E frequency band (880-890MHz).” Interestingly, Apple allegedly promised to release a software update shortly after Wednesday’s iPad 3 unveiling for iPhone 4S units manufactured before Feb. 8. This gesture of good will on Apple’s part points at plans to finally bring its handset to China Mobile.
China Mobile chairman Wang Jianzhou also said his company is in constant talks with Apple. “Bilateral co-operation” is said to encompass a number of technicalities, including the carrier’s upcoming 4G-LTE network currently tested in several cities. Apple CEO Tim Cook visited China Mobile’s headquarters last summer to presumably discuss the possibility of supporting 4G-LTE radio technology as a sixth-generation iPhone is expected to début this summer (or fall).
From the technical standpoint, Apple has several options at its disposal regarding baseband chips, namely: Qualcomm’s silicon that packs in support for 84MBps HSPA+ Release 10, LTE-Advanced with carrier aggregation, TD-SCDMA, TD-LTE, LTE on FDD and TDD networks worldwide, and embedded GPS capability. With Apple only “scratching the surface in China,” ($13 billion in China revenue in 2011 and plans to sell one-in-four iPhones to China and Brazil by 2015), the company is poised to benefit greatly by bringing its iconic smartphone to the world’s leading wireless operator.
China Mobile has around the same amount of subscribers as the populations of Europe and the United States combined. Morgan Stanley recently said it believed China Mobile could move an additional 60 million iPhones by the end of 2013 with 24 million units in 2012 alone—more than both China Unicom and China Telecom combined.
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