updated 11:34 pm EDT, Tue October 30, 2012
Latest model is compatible with both of the largest networks
Chinese regulatory authorities on Tuesday certified the iPhone 5 as being compatible with the country's GSM and CDMA networks, meaning that the iPhone 5 is now cleared to be sold in China. While it is still unknown when Apple will launch it in China, it is possible that the phone will appear soon on at least China Unicom's GSM network. Both a CDMA (known as A1442 on a chart provided by Sina) and a GSM (A1429) model have been approved, also providing an opportunity for China Telecom.
Hong Kong was one of the initial regions to get the iPhone 5 and has been a popular seller for China Unicom there, but the rest of China was left with the iPhone 4S as the most recent model. With the new approval, it's likely that the iPhone 5 will be on sale on the mainland before the end of the year, as indicated by CEO Tim Cook during the recent conference call with analysts. The approval may also spur China's largest carrier, China Mobile, to finalize a deal with Apple that has been in the works for years.
China is far and away the largest cell phone market in the world, and China Mobile is the world's largest carrier by subscriber number, with nearly 700 million customers. An estimated 20 million or more subscribers are already using the iPhone on China Mobile's network according to unofficial estimates, even though they are restricted to 2G speeds for data on the devices, since earlier versions of the iPhone don't support the company's TD-LTE network.
Wide availability of the iPhone 5 in China combined with the west's holiday buying season could make Apple's fiscal first quarter a boon time for iPhone sales, particularly if all three of China's major carriers can get the iPhone 5 in stores soon. Analysts have said that a deal with China Mobile could, all by itself, double current iPhone sales in the country.