Apple Counts on China To Pep Up iPhone Sales

Apple Inc. might have a chance to pep up cooling iPhone sales in China if it finally can reach a deal with the world's biggest phone carrier.

Once China's must-have gadget, the iPhone has seen its explosive popularity squeezed as the market filled with lower-priced rivals from Samsung to ambitious local brands. Some analysts say anybody who wants an iPhone and can afford it already has one.

That might change if Apple can gain access to China Mobile Ltd.'s network and a new pool of potential customers.

After a yearslong courtship, there are signs the two corporate giants might finally be edging toward a deal. The Wall Street Journal said it could be announced as early as this week, though China Mobile spokespeople have said the companies were still talking.

On Monday, China Mobile's Web site was taking orders for a mystery phone called "Ming Xing," or Bright Star. It showed a handset silhouette like that of an iPhone but gave no brand name.

The timing looks right. Just as Apple's sales growth in China cools, China Mobile received approval Dec. 5 to start operating the world's fourth-generation network and needs to market it.

State-owned China Mobile has more than 750 million mobile accounts. But its new 4G system -- based on China's homegrown TD-LTTE standard -- is unfamiliar to demanding Chinese customers.

The iPhone's glamor might help to win them over.

"Leveraging this brand, China Mobile could build a reputation for their network," said analyst Jane Zhang of Gartner.

For its part, Apple would gain access to a bigger, more robust network. It has faster data speeds and suffers fewer complaints about dropped calls than those of two smaller state-owned rivals.

"They need China Mobile more than China Mobile needs them," Zhang said.

How the benefits shake out for each side will depend on what deal the two giant companies,...

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