Is China Mobile Preparing to Sell Apple’s iPhones?

Source: Apple.comChina Mobile (NYSE:CHL) may be on the verge of announcing a long-rumored distribution deal with Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL). A photograph that purports to show an advertisement poster for a China Mobile version of the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C has recently been sighted on China’s Sina Tech website, reports Apple Insider.

According to Sina Tech, the poster is advertising 3G versions of Apple’s latest smartphones. The report notes that TD-LTE versions of Apple’s iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C have already been approved for use on China’s networks but the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has yet to issue 4G operating licenses to the carriers.

Sina Tech speculates that China Mobile may decide to go ahead and release the 3G versions of the new iPhone and issue a 4G software update as the TD-LTE network becomes available. Apple currently only has distribution deals with China Unicom (NYSE:CHU) and China Telecom (NYSE:CHA), China’s second and third largest carriers, respectively.

However, the Cupertino-based company is expected soon ink a deal with China Mobile, the world’s largest carrier with over 700 million subscribers. A deal with China Mobile is widely considered to be an essential key for Apple if it wants to increase its share of the burgeoning Chinese smartphone market.

According to Reuters, China Mobile Chairman Xi Guohua stated at a company meeting last month that, “There are still some commercial and technology issues that need time to resolve.” This may have been a reference to the ongoing 4G license delay. Market research firm IDC predicts that smartphone shipments in China will exceed 460 million units by 2017 to reach a market size of $117.8 billion. The Greater China market accounted for 13 percent of Apple’s sales in the June quarter, down from 19 percent of Apple’s total sales in the March quarter.

For the first time, China was included in Apple’s iPhone opening weekend sales this year. Apple revealed on Monday that it sold a record-breaking nine million iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C models over the launch weekend.  Here’s how Apple has traded so far today.

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