Apple has secured the final government license needed to run the iPhone on China Mobile’s proprietary wireless network. After years of negotiations, this is the latest of several recent signs that Apple may finally be able to release its smartphone through China’s largest carrier. We reported yesterday that cellular device specifications for the iPhone 5C and 5S models also point to variations for both devices that support TD-LTE, the variety of LTE that China Mobile uses.
The license was granted by China’s Telecom Equipment Certification Center, which is overseen by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT). If China Mobile does indeed start supporting the iPhone, this will be the first time the device has been released by all three major carriers in China. Landing an agreement with China Mobile is especially important to Apple because it has 740 million users, or more than half of the estimated 1.2 billion mobile subscribers in China.
The company has tried to secure an agreement with China Mobile since 2011, when Steve Jobs reportedly traveled to China to negotiate with the carrier. Meetings with China Mobile, as well as the MIIT, were also key parts of Tim Cook’s visit to the country in January.
China is Apple’s most important market outside the U.S., but sales of the iPhone have been under pressure there thanks to competition from Android smartphones, which now account for over 70% of smartphone sales, compared to the 22% share held by iOS. In Q2 of this year, Apple posted its biggest quarter ever for the Greater China region, with $8.8 billion in revenues. But in Q3, revenues were down 43%, but still accounted for 14% of the company’s overall revenues.
Apple is trying to boost sales by ramping up its operations in China. For example, more than 300 openings posted by the company were spotted on LinkedIn. Its focus on Chinese consumers was also underscored by its first ever iPhone launch event in Beijing earlier today.
Unless China Mobile or other carriers decide to subsidize the iPhone, prices for both models in China are still at a premium: the 5C will start at RMB4488 ($733) and the 5S model will be RMB5288 ($864). For the 5C, that represents a 33% increase over its price in the U.S.