China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile carrier, has 42 million iPhones on its network, according to Sina Tech.
That translates to nearly 6% of China Mobile’s 747 million subscribers.
The carrier’s iPhone users have increased by 27 million, or 1.6 million every month, since March 2012. To give this number some context, Apple sold 31 million iPhones globally in the most recent quarter.
What is amazing is that these iPhones are unsubsidized and incompatible with China Mobile’s 3G network, forcing users to pay relatively high prices for the phone while at the same time settling for 2G connections.
An Apple-China Mobile partnership has huge potential. Both companies stand to benefit: Apple gains access to China Mobile’s enormous subscriber base. China Mobile would finally be able to overcome an advantage held by its two closest competitors, which already sell the iPhone.
It is worth noting that since January 2013, China Mobile’s subscribers are adopting 3G at increasing rates, which suggests growing demand for faster mobile service (and by extension, the modern smartphones that are best-equipped to take advantage of 3G).
If Apple does not reach a deal with China Mobile, it will be interesting to see if iPhone activations continue to increase, or if subscribers will instead opt for 3G-compatible phones.
Apple already has regulatory approval to operate on China Mobile’s third generation and fourth generation mobile networks, making a deal seem imminent.
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