The Wall Street Journal
is reporting that a formal agreement between Apple and the world's largest -- and up till recently, the biggest iPhone holdout -- carrier, China Mobile, has been signed. The story is confirmed only by a single, unnamed source -- normally a violation of journalistic standards -- but other evidence to support the contention has appeared, including a pre-order site
connected to China Mobile serving a wealthy Shanghai suburb and state media announcements
While the iPhone has been available for quite some time on the country's second- and third-largest carriers, Apple has been pushing for a deal
with the carrier for going on six years. China Mobile actually has admitted
to having over 15 million iPhone users already on its network despite its lack of support, but until recently such users were limited to EDGE-like 2G data speeds because previous models were incompatible with the company's TD-SCDMA 3G technology. Only the recent iPhone models are compatible with the TD-LTE "4G" techology that has finally allowed a deal to come together.
Earlier this week, a website connected to China Mobile
opened for pre-orders on the latest iPhones, reinforcing a common rumored debut date of December 18 for the partnership to formally begin. Earlier reports from the state-controlled Xinhua News Agency also pegged the iPhone's China Mobile debut on the same day
-- with the iPhone 5c and 5s debuting for the first time. In addition, all of the top three carriers have been awarded licenses
to use TD-LTE in the country, meaning a substantive portion of China's major cities and urban areas will have access to high-speed cellular data that is compatible with the latest iPhones.
As of October, China Mobile alone had some 759 million subscribers, though many are still on feature-phone devices rather than smartphones. However, China's middle class is rapidly expanding compared to the shrinking US middle class, making it a vital growth market for Apple and its rivals. By way of comparison, America's largest cellular provider -- Verizon -- has a customer base just one-seventh as large.