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Summary:

Flush with a 4G license, China Mobile is expected to announce network details on December 18; a day that could also see a new customer for Apple. With the carrier’s unique 3G technology though, Apple may need one more new iPhone.

China-flag-Apple-logo

Apple’s iPhone is expected to launch in China on December 18 following the recent news of the country’s biggest three network carriers getting licenses to operate 4G networks. The Wall Street Journal shared the information from sources familiar with Apple’s plans on Thursday, just one day after the 4G licenses were awarded.

The December 18 date corresponds to an anticipated 4G network launch from China Mobile, the country’s largest carrier with more than 700 million subscribers. Just a 10 percent sell rate of the iPhone would net Apple another 70 million handsets sold, making this a huge opportunity for the company.

iPhone 5s M7 processor

I’m still unsure of how Apple and China Mobile plan to address one key issue: Fallback when outside of China Mobile’s 4G network. While the current iPhone does support 17 LTE frequencies — including China Mobile’s TD-LTE flavor – it doesn’t work on the carrier’s 3G network, which is based on TD-SCDMA.

That means one of three things. Apple has another iPhone model specifically for China Mobile that it will roll out in tandem with the news; China Mobile’s 4G network will work everywhere its current 3G network does; or there will simply be some dead zones for iPhone users on China Mobile.

I’m leaning towards the first option and expect that Apple could create a “special” iPhone specifically for China. After all, there are 700 million potential reasons to do so.

  1. Not quite correct.

    The 5C and 5S fallback to 3G here in China on China Mobile for places where “4G” isn’t available, if you’re using the 2 supported models – A1530 (HK iPhone 5S) and A1529 (HK iPhone 5C)

    Eg – in Shanghai I can’t get 4G signal, so it gets 3G only, but in Beijing where there is 4G I can use LTE.

    There is a bit of a sim swap needed to get 4G till they officially launch, but it works, and transitions from 3g-4g network seamlessly.

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    1. Interesting Lawrence. I’m wondering how that works based on the supported network tech in the A1530 for example.

      Per Apple it handles this: Model A1530*: UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz); FDD-LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20); TD-LTE (Bands 38, 39, 40)

      I see no mention of TD-SCDMA.

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      1. Not sure, but it only works on those 2 specific models, not other 5c / 5s, so there must be another non-advertised frequency being supported. Maybe a teardown of one of those models to see what version the radio chipset is using would show some details (not that I can do that with a working unit).

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  2. If you need proof of it working on 3g here in Shanghai, can send you screenshots, there are plenty of sellers on Taobao selling sim cards which enable it – again, only for the 2 HK versions of the 5c/5s.

    The 7.0.4 firmware update broke the previous sim card swap for this, but there are newer cards which support it on 7.0.4

    eg taobao.com search for iphone 5s 4g卡

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