China Mobile, the world’s largest carrier by subscribers, has been negotiating for years with Apple to develop an iPhone that runs on TD-SCDMA, the home-grown standard it is using for its 3G network. China Mobile is also, reportedly, hoping that the appearance of a CDMA iPhone – which could also come to China Telecom, the CDMA cellco – could ease the path for a 3G version for its own orphan network.
“We hope that when they develop the next-generation models, since Apple can create CDMA, they can also consider developing TD-SCDMA,” China Mobile Chairman Wang Jianzhou was quoted as saying on Wednesday by the Sina Technology news portal.
“These two years we have been discussing the issue. Right now the situation is moving forward. Apple has made it clear they will support TD-LTE,” Wang said in Davos, Switzerland.
This time, both Apple and China Mobile may have more powerful reasons to come to a compromise. Apple’s recent quarterly results showed robust progress in China across its range, but it remains a tiny presence compared to Nokia, Samsung and local suppliers (Nokia’s Ovi Store accounts for 65% of mobile downloads, compared to less than 10% on Apple App Store). It could make a significant splash by getting into TD-LTE from day one, when services go live (probably in late 2011 or early 2012), and Mobile will be desperate to switch those networks on with attractive handsets to counter the squeeze on its market share from Unicom.
Also, in a market that is largely new to mobile data, Apple may not feel the same sensitivities about launching on an untried network as in the US, where it knows how seriously users take poor performance.
Currently, Apple’s iPhone is only available through China Unicom, China’s second-largest mobile carrier, which runs on the global 3G standard. The smartphone’s exclusive availability through China Unicom has crimped sales of the device in China as China Unicom has a much smaller pool of subscribers and number portability is not allowed in the country. China Mobile had 584 million mobile phone subscribers in December last year while China Unicom had 167.4 million.