Report: 4G iPhone Coming to China Mobile in September

Apple has closed a deal with China Mobile, the world’s largest wireless carrier, and will introduce an iPhone for the company’s network in September, according to a report coming out of China on Friday. The source of the report is a salesperson from China Mobile, which means that it’s far from official, and adding insult to rumor injury, the bit about a “4G” iPhone appears to made of whole cloth.

Apple in China

“A new iPhone with China Mobile’s network will debut and the cooperation will be announced in September,” China Mobile’s Beijing-based marketing official Liu Yang said on his microblog yesterday, according to Shanghai Daily. “People will not need to change their mobile numbers to use iPhone.”

Shanghai Daily adds that it’s “likely a 4G version,” without sourcing what the “likely” is based on. As you can see in the microblog post quoted above, not even the unofficial statement from a China Mobile salesperson mentions anything about it being a 4G device.

That some kind of deal has been reached, however, is supported by another report from China on Wednesday that included a photograph of Apple COO Tim Cook strolling around the lobby of China Mobile’s headquarters “looking happy.” That set off the initial round of speculation that the two companies had reached an accord.

If so, it would be very important for Apple. China Mobile is the world’s largest wireless carrier, with more than 600 million customers — that’s not quite twice as many people as live in all of the U.S. Apple sells the iPhone in China through the smaller (but still large) China Unicom, but China Mobile would offer Apple an enormous opportunity to sell more iPhones.

The 4G thing, though, seems suspect. Apple has been widely rumored to be waiting to bring its iPhone to any so-called 4G protocol, in part because there are no proper 4G networks yet, at least not in the U.S. Verizon has an LTE network it rolled out earlier this year, and AT&T is working on its own LTE network, and while neither is proper 4G, both are much faster than existing 3G networks. Existing LTE devices, however, enjoy terrible battery life so far due to the way they must interact with the LTE networks.

For all those reasons and more, Apple has been rumored to be waiting to embrace any next-generation network until the company can do it right.

Accordingly, expect a China Mobile iPhone in September, but don’t expect it to be 4G.