All of a sudden, doors are opening for Apple (AAPL) to make a distribution deal for its iPhone with China Mobile and its 700 million subscribers. A Chinese regulator has approved Apple’s iPhone to operate on China Mobile’s proprietary mobile network, clearing the way for the huge Chinese carrier to sell the iPhone for the first time.
And, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, the Chinese regulator also granted licenses to China Unicom and China Telecom, which means all three Chinese carriers now can offer the iPhone on their mobile networks.
China’s Telecom Equipment Center website indicated Apple was supplied with a “network access license” for an iPhone-like handset that runs on China Mobile’s 3G and 4G mobile network services, the Journal’s report said.
At its iPhones event on Tuesday, Apple said the new devices would go on sale in China Sept. 20, the same day as in the United States.
For Apple, a deal with China Mobile would add immeasurable weight to its efforts to challenge Samsung and Lenovo in that market and would culminate a four-year on-and-off struggle to hammer out an agreement between the two powerhouses. According to an earlier Wall Street Journal report, Apple asked its manufacturing partner Foxconn to include China Mobile in its list of carriers lined up to receive the low-cost iPhone 5C. At this point, it’s still uncertain if Apple and China Mobile have a deal in place but all signs are pointing in that direction.
This past January, Apple chief Tim Cook and China Mobile chairman Xi Guohua began discussing “matters of cooperation.” Prior talks between the two companies reportedly have snagged on revenue-sharing issues (China Mobile is said to want a piece of sales generated by Apple’s App Store from the carrier’s customers) and on a technical issue—China Mobile uses a TD-SCDMA network incompatible with the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5—although that hurdle now has been overcome.
For now, it appears that Apple has set aside its reluctance to supply its iPhone to China Mobile’s slower network while China Mobile may have settled on an acceptable financial arrangement with the vendor.