Future versions of Apple's iPhone will support China Mobile's fourth generation (4G) network, China's largest mobile carrier said, a sign that it will eventually offer the iconic device to its 600 million customers.
China Mobile's chairman Wang Jianzhou reported the development on Thursday, according to a company spokeswoman. Both Apple and the carrier have reached a consensus on the development of Long-Term Evolution (LTE), a 4G technology that can allow mobile phones to exchange data at much faster rates. When Apple releases iPhones built for 4G networks, the devices will also support China Mobile's version of this technology known as LTE TDD (Time-Division Duplex), Wang said.
China Mobile has been in discussions with Apple since 2007 about selling its iPhone product, but the companies have yet to reach agreement. Part of those discussions have revolved around China Mobile's third-generation technology known as TD-SCDMA (Time Division Synchronous Code Division Multiple Access). If Apple were to sell an iPhone for use on China Mobile's network, the company would have to rebuild the devices so that they could work using the carrier's TD-SCDMA 3G network.
The lack of an official iPhone in China's Mobile smartphone offerings has given its rival China Unicom an edge in the market, according to analysts. Currently China Unicom, which has 174 million mobile subscribers, is the only carrier in the country to officially sell Apple's iPhone.
Apple could not be reached for immediate comment. In the past, the company has said China, including Hong Kong and Taiwan, is Apple's fastest growing market for its iPhone devices. But there has been no official word on when a 4G iPhone will arrive.
China has already begun large-scale trials of its 4G LTE TDD technology. The research and development of commercial equipment for the new networks will be completed in 2012. But it's unclear when the networks will be available for actual commercial use.