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China Mobile Coy on iPhone Launch Timetable

2013-12-24 21:36:51 

At China Mobile0941.HK +0.50%’s forum to unveil its new fourth-generation mobile brand in Guangzhou, the company was still coy about its plans to offer AppleAAPL +3.70%’s iPhones.

“We hope to offer iPhones on the company’s network soon,” Chief Executive Li Yue told The Wall Street Journal on the sidelines of the conference, when asked about when China Mobile’s more than 700 million customers can have access to the popular smartphones.

The Wall Street Journal first reported earlier this month that China Mobile signed a long-awaited deal with Apple which would give the U.S. technology giant access to a subscriber base that is seven times  bigger than that of Verizon Wireless, the U.S.’s largest carrier. Greater China, including Hong Kong and Taiwan, is Apple’s third biggest market after the U.S. and Europe in terms of revenue.

Earlier this month, China Mobile’s units in Beijing, Shanghai and Suzhou placed iPhone advertisements on their websites, inviting potential customers to preorder the devices, raising hopes that China Mobile would join its rivals to offer iPhones. China Mobile has repeatedly declined to comment on the timetable.

China Mobile appears to be treading carefully. At the 4G forum, there were plenty of other handset manufacturers including Samsung Electronics Co.005930.SE -1.26%, Sony Corp,  Lenovo Group Ltd., HTC Corp. and Huawei Technologies Co.

“China Mobile is trying to rally other smartphone makers to make more 4G handsets compatible with its network. So it would not be appropriate to announce the iPhone deal during the global partner conference,” said Diana Wu, an analyst at Capital Securities.

Apple wasn’t immediately available for comment.

Mr. Li also unveiled China Mobile’s new 4G brand “and” which can be translated as “a new dream.”

China Mobile Chairman Xi Gouhua also said the carrier plans to increase its marketing expenses and handset subsidies next year to speed up the development of 4G services.

Mr. Xi said China Mobile will be ready to provide commercial 4G services in 16 cities including Beijing and Shanghai by the end of this year and it will expand the services to more than 340 cities by the end of 2014.

iPhones are good for the carrier’s brand, but it won’t bring in much profit given hefty handset subsidies,” said Marvin Lo, an analyst at Mizuho Securities, noting that China Mobile is expected to add at least 10 million new iPhone users next year.