China Mobile Claims 15 Million iPhones without Apple Deal

China Mobile’s chairman, Wang Jianzhou, announced on Tuesday that his company has some 15 million iPhones on its network. This is significant because not only does China Mobile not have a deal with Apple to carry the device, the iPhone doesn’t even work on China Mobile’s 3G network—all 15 million of those users are limited to 2G functionality and data speeds.

Apple in China

China Mobile is the world’s largest cellphone carrier, with some 655 million customers. That’s a little more than twice the population of the U.S., for those keeping score at home. China Mobile’s 3G network is a small portion of that business, with some 54 million 3G customers.

To throw some more fun numbers into the picture, at an average selling price of $600 (which is low-balling the price), Apple has earned some US$9 billion on sales of the iPhone that eventually made their way to a carrier network the company doesn’t officially work with. That’s a pretty good gig, if you can get it.

Apple has reportedly been in negotiations with China Mobile for some time, and Wang Jianzhou has bragged in the past that the 4G LTE network the company is building will be compatible with a future version of the iPhone. To that end, Qualcomm announced in February that it had developed a chipset that will support most of the world’s 3G and 4G networks, including China Mobile’s implementations.

China Mobile may have felt compelled to brag about the number of iPhones on its network because Apple recently added China Telecom, the country’s third largest carrier, as an iPhone partner. Apple already worked with China Unicom, the second largest carrier in the country, possibly leaving China Mobile with a case of iPhone envy.

The news comes to us from TechInAsia, which got it from Chinese-language Sina Tech, which got it from Beijing Daily.