China Mobile, the world's largest cell service provider, has apparently signed a deal to bring Apple's iPhone to its network. The carrier hosts more than 740 million subscribers, which is a huge new market for Apple to tap into.
There hasn't been an official announcement yet, but word of the deal came via unnamed sources speaking with the Wall Street Journal. The launch is expected to happen some time around China Mobile's planned December 18 media event for its recently upgraded 4G network.
Word of the deal followed Wednesday's announcement that the Chinese government granted licenses to China Mobile, as well as China Telecom and China Unicom, to begin operating their 4G TD-LTE wireless networks. Speculation that China Mobile would announce an iPhone deal on December 18 started in November, although neither Apple or China Mobile has offered up a confirmation.
Finally bringing the iPhone to China Mobile's network will give Apple an official presence with all three of China's carriers since the company already has deals in place with China Unicom and China Telecom. What Apple won't have until the China Mobile deal is official is access to a customer base that's larger than the population of many countries.
Estimates suggest Apple could see 20 million extra iPhone activations in 2014 with a China Mobile in place, 30 million in 2015, and over time upwards of 100 million activations annually.