BEIJING, Dec. 23 (Xinhua) -- After long anticipation, Apple and China Mobile announced on Monday that they have inked an agreement to bring iPhones to the world's largest mobile network.
"iPhones have appealed to worldwide users. China Mobile's massive customer group and potential customers are anxiously awaiting the incredible combination of iPhone and our leading network," said Xi Guohua, China Mobile Chairman.
According to the agreement, iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c will be available in China Mobile and Apple retail stores across mainland China starting on January 17, 2014.
The 760 million subscribers of China Mobile will have an opportunity to use iPhones on the provider's 4G/TD-LTE and 3G/TD-SCDMA networks.
"iPhone customers in China are an enthusiastic and rapidly growing group, and we can't think of a better way to welcome in the Chinese Lunar New Year than getting an iPhone into the hands of every China Mobile customer who wants one," said Apple CEO Tim Cook, who sees China as an extremely important market. The partnership with China Mobile presents the opportunity to bring iPhone to customers on the world's largest network, said Cook.
The Chinese Lunar New Year, the most important family reunion holiday for Chinese, falls on Jan. 31, 2014 -- about two weeks after the first China Mobile version of the iPhone hits the market. The timing means the US-designed, high-cost smartphones will coast from the Western holiday season into China's top shopping season.
Pre-orders of the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c will start Wednesday on China Mobile's official website and customer service hotline. Contract prices have not yet been disclosed.
After the news was announced, Chinese Internet giant Tencent polled more than 41,000 mobile netizens. Within eight hours of the announcement, 46 percent had responded that they plan to buy an iPhone under the China Mobile contract.
In response to a separate question, 31 percent of the respondents said the deal will have a great impact on China Telecom and China Unicom, China Mobile's two rivals.
China Unicom became Apple's exclusive partner in China in 2009, the same year it was granted a 3G license. The provider's 3G subscribers skyrocketed to 87.8 million in March 2013 from 330,000 in Sept. 2009.
China Mobile, which has lagged behind in the 3G competition, received its 4G license from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology on Dec. 4. As the world's largest mobile services provider by network scale and subscriber base, China Mobile has been ambitiously rolling out the world's biggest 4G network.
By the end of 2013, China Mobile plans to provide 4G services in 16 cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. By the end of 2014, it aims to expand its 4G network to at least 340 cities, or more than half of all cities across the country.
Sales of the popular iPhone 5s have boosted the market share of Apple products in the Chinese market from 3 percent in September to 12 percent in October, ranking third after Samsung and Lenovo, according to statistics released by the Hong Kong-based market researcher Counterpoint Research.
Apple is likely to top China's smartphone market at the turn of 2013 and 2014 after the deal between Apple and China Mobile, said an analyst with Counterpoint Research.