Apple announced on Sunday that it had reached a deal to bring the iPhone to China Mobile, the world's biggest phone carrier. The deal ends a lengthy courtship and could boost sales of the iPhone in China, where it has been eclipsed by the rise of lower-priced rival smartphones from South Korean company Samsung and Chinese companies such as Huawei and Lenovo.
The iPhone 5S and 5C will go on sale in Apple stores and China Mobile stores beginning Friday, Jan. 17. China Mobile will begin registering orders for the iPhone beginning Dec. 25, the company said on its account on the Sina-Weibo micro-blogging service.
Pricing and availability details for the iPhone 5S and 5C lines will be disclosed at a later date, a statement from Apple read.
The tie-up between the pair, in the U.S. company's second-largest market after its home turf, provides a much-needed boost for Apple in a region where it's trailing rivals. It will also give Apple extra firepower in its increasing global rivalry with Samsung.
Research firm Canalys says Samsung sells one of every five smartphones in China, followed by Lenovo Group. Apple's sales are growing but it was in fifth place in the latest quarter, with a 6 percent market share.
Analysts speculate that its deal with China Mobile could help Apple sell another 10 million to 40 million phones, and net billions of dollars in revenue.
Apple CEO Tim Cook told the Xinhua News Agency in January that he expects China to surpass the United States as its biggest market. Some 50 million iPhones have been sold in China in the past 2 1/2 years, according to analyst estimates.
China Mobile, which is owned by the Chinese government, has more than 750 million mobile accounts. However, a survey by Bernstein Research said some China Mobile consumers use smaller carriers for data service. Apple already has agreements with China Telecom Ltd. and China Unicom Ltd., which have about 455 million mobile accounts.
With China Mobile, Apple gains access to a bigger, more robust network. The network has faster data speeds and suffers fewer complaints about dropped calls than those of two smaller state-owned rivals.
China Mobile wants to have the world's largest 4G network, and the new iPhones might help it win over customers. The company received approval to start operating the faster network earlier this month and plans to have 4G services available in 16 cities by the end of 2013. It aims to provide coverage for 340 cities by the end of 2014.