China Mobile Drops a Big iPhone Hint

China

China Mobile (NYSE:CHL) may be on the verge of announcing a long-awaited distribution deal with Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), The Wall Street Journal reports.The world’s largest carrier appeared to hint at an Apple partnership when it recently revealed that it would be introducing a new mobile brand at its upcoming China Mobile Global Partners Conference that starts on December 17.

A China Mobile executive told the Journal that the carrier is ready to begin 4G mobile services despite the lack of an operating license from China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. However, as previously reported by The Wall Street Journal, the TD-LTE versions of Apple’s iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C have already been licensed by China’s Telecom Equipment Certification Center.

China has become an increasingly important market for Apple and was even included in this year’s iPhone launch event for the first time. A distribution deal with China Mobile is widely viewed as an essential next step for Apple’s expansion in this lucrative emerging market. Although China Mobile is the world’s largest carrier, with more than 750 million subscribers, it has never had a partnership with the California-based iPhone maker. Apple currently only has distribution deals with China’s two other major carriers, China Unicom (NYSE:CHU) and China Telecom (NYSE:CHA).

Mizuho Securities analyst Marvin Lo noted the impact that a China Mobile deal could have on Apple’s overall presence in Asia, telling The Wall Street Journal: “A deal with China Mobile would give Apple a big boost in the China market as the largest local carrier has the most wealthy subscriber base. I estimate that among China Mobile’s more than 700 million mobile subscribers, at least 10 percent or 70 million wealthier ones would be potential customers for iPhones.”

A distribution deal with China Mobile would also likely help Apple boost its overall worldwide smartphone market share. The most recent data from market research firm Gartner show that the iPhone maker’s share of the worldwide smartphone market fell to 12.1 percent in the third quarter from 14.3 percent in the year-ago quarter. Meanwhile, rival Samsung (SSNLF.PK) maintained its No. 1 ranking in the global smartphone market with the same 32.1 percent share it held last year.

Here’s how Apple traded on Thursday:

Apple Inc. Stock Chart - AAPL Interactive Chart - Yahoo! Finance

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