Apple in iPhone Talks With Second Chinese Carrier?

Published on September 1, 2009
by John Paczkowski

chinaiphoneApple will sell somewhere between five and seven million iPhones in China in 2010, according to research house Broadpoint AmTech. But that’s assuming its distribution deal with China Unicom is exclusive. And according to Apple, it’s not. “I can confirm it is not an exclusive deal,” an Apple spokesperson told Dow Jones.

Apple (AAPL) declined to say what other carriers the company might be talking to, but it’s a safe bet that if the company is in discussions with a second carrier, it’s China Mobile. After all, the two companies have talked about a deal before, and while those negotiations stumbled repeatedly over issues like revenue-sharing and hardware localization, it’s hard to believe that Apple would turn its back on the world’s largest wireless carrier.

There are 600 million cellphone users in China and 415 million of them are China Mobile subscribers. That’s a hell of an opportunity to pass up, no matter how difficult negotiating with the company might be.

According to China Mobile CEO Wang Jianzhou, Apple hasn’t passed it up. During the company’s quarterly earnings call on Aug. 20, Jianzhou said specifically that talks between the two companies continue. Just what they might involve is anyone’s guess, although Dan Butterfield at iPhonAsia speculates that they would likely be for an EDGE 2G-only version of iPhone.

“No matter the future of TD-SCDMA, China Mobile will maintain their EDGE 2G network, which has broad coverage and a clear signal throughout major urban zones in China,” Butterfield writes. “In my view, EDGE 2G could be the bridge between Apple and China Mobile. There are hundreds of millions of low-salaried wireless consumers in China who aspire to iPhone. Many have in fact already purchased cheap Shanzhai (iClone) knock-offs. But Shanzhai iPhones are not reliable and quickly become landfill. A low-priced ‘real’ Apple iPhone running EDGE 2G only, might sell by the tens of millions.”

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