The head of China Mobile has called on Apple to include Beijing's home-grown standard for third-generation mobile services in the next generation of the iPhone, underscoring the growing pressures on the world's largest mobile operator to attract 3G subscribers.
The request comes amid fears that China Mobile risks falling behind rivals China Telecom and China Unicom - the only telecom operator in the country to have a distribution deal with Apple for the iPhone - in signing up subscribers.
Wang Jianzhou, China Mobile chairman and chief executive, said at the group's annual results yesterday that "including TD-SCDMA is not that hard to do - RIM is doing it". But he added that Apple had not yet responded to his proposal.
Research in Motion agreed last year to include TD in certain of its BlackBerry models for China Mobile subscribers.
Telecom industry experts cautioned that Apple was unlikely to follow RIM very quickly. The inclusion of TD would require an additional chip, and that could be difficult to place in a device as slim as the iPhone.
China Mobile's share of new subscriber uptakes stood at a commanding 95 per cent before the kick-off of 3G in China unleashed fierce competition in the sector. Their share has fallen dramatically over the past year, in part due to continued technical problems with its 3G technology. "In January China Mobile regained more than 50 per cent share of new subscribers, but how sustainable is that? They are clearly struggling in 3G," said Duncan Clark, chairman of BDA, a Beijing telecom consultancy.
China Mobile is the only one of the three telecoms operators in China to use the country's home-grown TD-SCDMA standard, putting it at a disadvantage to its two rivals which have more widely used technology.
Mr Wang said yesterday that China Mobile aimed to increase the number of 3G users from 3.4m to at least 10m this year.
The company plans to increase handset subsidies by 30 per cent this year to achieve that goal.
Analysts said the targets showed the company intends to rely on handsets to lure subscribers into 3G, but called China Mobile's 3G user targets conservative.
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