updated 03:40 pm EDT, Mon October 24, 2011
China Mobile hints rabid demand
China Mobile chairman Wang Jianzhou disclosed at ITU World on Monday that China Mobile had over 10 million unofficial iPhone users. He hinted that Apple hadn't reached a deal for the iPhone 4S but hadn't had problems attracting users, even with full-price unlocked devices. China Unicom is the only official Chinese carrier in the country.
Wang did, however, elaborate on hints of plans for an iPhone with TD-LTE. China Mobile didn't yet have an agreement, but had been given a 'promise' by Apple that any iPhone with LTE would also have support for the China-specific TD-LTE version. Its network is the primary home of TD-LTE, although about 27 other networks around the world are also using the technology and would increase the need for support.
So far, only China Telecom has been rumored getting a deal, but it would be using the readily available iPhone 4S for its CDMA network. A rumored October deal so far hasn't materialized.
Apple is known to be eager for the China market and kept the two year old iPhone 3GS available in part to cater to Chinese buyers. Prepaid use is much more common in China and makes the up-front, unlocked price of the phone much more important than its contract discount. It has had a difficult fight against Android partly because the Chinese government's backing of its own standards, like TD-SCDMA and TD-LTE, has prevented Apple from expanding as quickly as it has in other parts of the world where China-native companies could add support themselves.
China Mobile is the world's largest cellular provider, at over 600 million subscribers, and as a result is considered one of the most important targets for any cellphone manufacturer.