Wireless carriers in China next month will begin offering 4G LTE service, a potential boon to Apple, which is hoping to gain ground on Samsung's lead in the country.
The speedier wireless network will debut in China on December 18, according to a report Monday in Xinhua, China's official state news agency. China Mobile, the world's largest wireless carrier with nearly 760 million customers, will launch high-speed Internet and data services with new mobile brand partner Hé, a Mandarin word that translates to "all" in English.
There was some speculation that China Mobile's new partner might be Apple, which has been courting wireless carrier for years. The iPhone is currently offered by China Unicom and China Telecom, but support from China Mobile would open up a vast number of new customers for Apple.
While nothing has yet been announced, Monday's Xinhua report goes on to note ongoing negotiations between the two companies and states that the iPhone will "officially" launch on China Mobile's network on December 18. CNET has contacted Apple for comment and will update this report when we learn more.
Apple was granted a government license to operate on China Mobile's network in August, and an Apple job posting In October sought an engineer with extensive knowledge of TD-SCDMA, the communications protocol used exclusively by China Mobile, leading many to believe an iPhone launch was imminent.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has visited China twice this year, meeting with China Mobile Chairman Xi Guohua as recently as July. During a press conference in August, Xi said discussions with Apple were "ongoing," focusing on "commercial details and technology issues."
A deal with the world's largest mobile telcom provider could go a long way toward chipping away at the smartphone market lead enjoyed by Samsung in China. The South Korean electronics giant sold 30 million smartphones in the country last year for a 17.7 percent market share, according to Strategy Analytics figures, outpacing No. 2 Lenovo's 13 percent share and No. 3 Apple's 11 percent share.