10M China Mobile iPhone users: More proof devices trump network speed


On Monday, China Mobile announced 10 million iPhone(s aapl) users on its network (via Reuters). (s tri) It’s an impressive landmark, but far more so when you realize that China Mobile (s chl) isn’t an official carrier partner for Apple’s smartphone. It is, however, the world’s largest carrier by subscribers, a significant percentage of which appear not to care too much that China Mobile’s network only supports 2G speeds with iPhone hardware.

Earlier in 2011, we saw the same basic story play out on a smaller scale in the U.S., when T-Mobile let spill that it has over 1 million active users on its network, which likewise isn’t officially supported by Apple’s device, and which also only offers a max of 2G network speeds for iPhone devices. That’s not the only similarity between the two companies: China Mobile chairman Wang Jianzhou told Reuters Monday that Apple will make an iPhone compatible with its TD-LTE standard for the next-gen model. T-Mobile, too, is waiting on Apple hardware support before it can become an official carrier.

The companies may be similar in terms of how they stand in relation to Apple, but China Mobile is probably a more high-profile target for Cupertino. Talks have reportedly been ongoing in regard to bringing them into the iPhone fold, and with more than 600 million customers, China Mobile’s network represents a tremendous growth opportunity for Apple in one of its best-performing markets.

That 10 million of those users are willing to make concessions in terms of network speeds only reinforces what me and my colleague Kevin have been saying for a while now: namely, a lot of subscribers care about hardware first, and networks second. That bodes well for Apple’s business model, which is to take a watch-and-wait approach on new network tech while competitors clamber to entice shoppers with LTE and 4G network compatibility.

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