China Mobile today confirmed that the company has been in talks with Apple to offer the iPhone on its specialized TD-SCDMA network, while noting that no such deal has yet been struck.
During a press conference following the carrier's earnings announcement, which was covered by Reuters, China Mobile Chairman Wang Jianzhou noted that he had met with Apple CEO Steve Jobs to discuss bringing a customized version of the phone to the carrier.
"I met Steve Jobs several times already, but we haven't come to an agreement yet," Wang said. "All I can say is, it's a common wish of China Mobile and Apple to come to an agreement as soon as possible."
Such an agreement would presumably require Apple to produce a specialized version of the iPhone hardware that could connect to China Mobile's TD-SCDMA (time division-synchronous code division multiple access) network. That 3G signal is not compatible with the versions Apple currently ships to other carriers, requiring users to go at the slower, 2G speeds. Apparently that technical hurdle hasn't stopped some 7.44 million iPhone users from hopping on China Mobile's network at slower speeds with phones bought elsewhere, Reuters said.
A deal with China Mobile would be of special note given the massive scale of the carrier, which reported 616.8 million subscribers as of June. (Of that, just 35 million are 3G users.) That's more than three times the size of AT&T and Verizon Wireless in the U.S., which together account for slightly more than 200 million subscribers.
Apple currently offers the iPhone in China only through carrier China Unicom. The two companies inked a three-year agreement to offer the device there, beginning with the iPhone 3G in 2009. The carrier got the iPhone 4, Apple's latest generation of the device, less than a year later. Besides China Unicom, rival China Telecom is also said to be working on a deal with Apple, with a Reuters report in early July pointing to a release by the end of this year.
Separately, a report by Bloomberg this morning noted that Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook did, in fact, meet with China Mobile when visiting the country earlier this year. A blurry photo, purportedly of Cook walking into the carrier's headquarters, cropped up in late June.
Of course one question that remains, if a deal is struck, is which iPhone China Mobile users would get. Apple is expected to debut the follow-up to the iPhone 4 this fall to coincide with the launch of iOS 5 and its iCloud service. Recent reports have pegged that launch for early October.