China Mobile has an extraordinary 622 million subscribers, though only about 38 million have the 3G service more common in nations like the U.S.
An Apple alliance with China Mobile would be revolutionary in two ways. China does not yet have the kind of super-fast 4G wireless network that is becoming the new standard in more developed nations, but China Mobile is in the early stages of creating one. 4G is being widely promoted in the U.S. by Sprint-Nextel (S), AT&T Wireless (T) and Verizon Wireless. These three telecom firms believe that whichever gets the most 4G customers here will rule the American cellular service business for years.
Apple does not have a 4G-enabled iPhone yet, although one is anticipated next year. Handset makers like HTC and Samsung have tried to flank Apple in America by being first to market with 4G products.
A 4G iPhone available in China would likely produce a surge in new cell subscribers in the country, or at least a shift from older cellular service. This would make China Mobile money. It could also make the iPhone the most-favored product for 4G, which would be likely to propel it to a market share similar to that it holds in the U.S.
China has by fair the greatest number of cellphone users in the world. If China Mobile and Apple make a deal to jointly control the next generation of cell service there, the sales opportunities for Apple will be extraordinary.