China Telecom may begin selling the Apple iPhone 4S as early as next month, the carrier reportedly announced today.
A CDMA version of the phone could launch on China's third largest wireless carrier as early as late February or early March, China Telecom subsidiary Beijing Telecom said in a press release cited by China Daily. "China Telecom has already started preparatory work for the launch of the iPhone 4S."
Pricing details were not revealed, and Apple representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The phone is currently available in China only through China Unicom, which has a three-year agreement to offer the device there, beginning with the iPhone 3G in 2009. However, Apple has for months been rumored to be working on deals with China Telecom and China Mobile--the latter being the world's largest wireless carrier with about 650 million subscribers.
China-based Sohu.com reported last August that China Telecom and Apple had reached a "preliminary agreement" to sell the new device sometime before the end of October, but that deal that did not materialize. Before that, Reuters had reported China Telecom was on track to get the iPhone by the end of the year.
China Telecom makes up close to 12 percent of China's total wireless subscriber base, which Ticonderoga Securities analyst Brian White pegged at 896.2 million in a research note last month. Of that, 73.8 million are 3G subscribers, with China Telecom accounting for a little more than a quarter of that total.
Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty sent a note to investors yesterday that suggested Apple could bring in an extra 40 million buyers next year by expanding its mobile presence in China by making deals with the two wireless carriers.
Apple began selling the iPhone 4S in China earlier this month, drawing massive crowds there and sparking a small riot in Beijing after the company announced it would not be selling the device on its pre-announced launch day. In a call with analysts last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook said "we thought we were betting bold," about initial sales of the iPhone 4S there, but that "we didn't bet high enough."
CNET's Josh Lowensohn contributed to this report.