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Is Apple – finally – taking the iPhone to China Mobile?

china mobile - iphoneEver since Apple launched the iPhone, it’s been in talks with China Mobile. Revenue-sharing conditions and the huge influx of grey-market iPhones operating on the network did nothing to smooth over these discussions, but new reports from Reuters India say that Apple might be pulling a Verizon-iPhone-type move in China.

Until this point, China Unicom was the AT&T of the country, in the sense that it alone has offered the iPhone. But one good reason for Apple to make the jump is China Mobile’s position as the largest carrier in the world–that and the fact the there are already more than seven million iPhones being used on its network. The major caveat being that these units can only access China Mobile’s 2G network (its 3G network isn’t compatible with the iPhone’s).

But offering the iPhone up to China Mobile isn’t as simple as signing some paperwork. Apple will basically have to create an iPhone exclusively for the carrier, which operates a TDSCDMA network. This is an alternative to what we use, and much of the reason Chinese companies employ this standard is to isolate themselves from Western electronics and their licensing fees, while simultaneously bolstering Chinese-made handsets.

This doesn’t necessarily mean Apple won’t bend to these specifications: It’s done it before. Prior to launching the Verizon iPhone, Apple only produced a CDMA iPhone–and that was only for some 100 million customers. China Mobile has nearly seven times that amount–and as with everything in the nation, that number is growing quickly. Couple this with the fact that Chinese consumers are infatuated with Apple products (to strange and sometimes disturbing degrees) and it’s likely only a matter of time until China Mobile can officially carry the iPhone.

It all feels a little like déjà vu, and as with the Verizon iPhone launch, we have to wonder what iPhone will be introduced. China Mobile chairman Wang Jianzhou said earlier this year Apple would introduce an iPhone compatible with the network’s coming 4G network, but we have our doubts. Given China’s Apple fanboy syndrome, Apple could release the iPhone 4 just before an iPhone 5 and cash in on customers who just can’t wait, and then are compelled to upgrade. 

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