China Mobile (CHL) is the world’s largest wireless carrier with more than 700 million subscribers. The company is also the only major carrier in China that does not offer Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone — officially at least; China Mobile announced that it has more than 15 million iPhones running on its network, but they are limited to dreadfully slow 2G speeds and Wi-Fi for data. The carrier utilizes TD-SCDMA, a 3G frequency developed by the Chinese Academy of Telecommunications Technology, that is incompatible with global GSM and CDMA network devices, meaning that Apple would have to build a custom iPhone specifically for China Mobile.
Apple CEO Tim Cook is aware of the huge demand for am iPhone on China Mobile and over the past year, the two companies have been discussing a potential partnership, however a deal was not made prior to the launch of the iPhone 5. As Android’s Chinese market share continues to skyrocket and following the recent debut of Nokia’s Lumia 920 on China Mobile, Apple is again looking to cut a deal with the world’s largest wireless carrier.
A China Mobile spokesperson confirmed to Reuters that Cook visited with China Mobile chairman Xi Guohua to discuss “matters of cooperation.” In an interview with reporters on Thursday, Cook said that he is confident China will become Apple’s largest market in the near future.
“Currently, Apple has 11 stores in the Greater China region, as well as many resellers,” he said. “We will continue to expand in China and the number of retail stores we’ll have will exceed 25.”
Without China Mobile, however, Apple will continue to struggle in the crucial Chinese market.