WASHINGTON - Apple has reached a long awaited multi-year deal with China Mobile, China's largest wireless carrier, to sell the US tech giant's flagship iPhone device in that country.
The partnership gives Apple much greater access to the world's largest mobile market, with an estimated 1.2 billion users. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, and iPhone pricing details will be released at a later date, the US company stated.
State-owned China Mobile is the world's largest wireless carrier with 760 million subscribers - more than three times the number of U.S. users who subscribe to mobile services offered by ATandT and Verizon Wireless combined..
"We know there are many China Mobile customers and potential new customers who are anxiously awaiting the incredible combination of iPhone on China Mobile's leading network," said China Mobile chairman Xi Guohua.
Beginning January 17, days before the Lunar New Year, the iPhone 5S and 5C will go on sale in Apple stores and China Mobile stores. China Mobile customers can register for phones starting December 25, the companies announced.
Apple chief executive Tim Cook stressed that "China is an extremely important market for Apple and our partnership with China Mobile presents us the opportunity to bring iPhone to the customers of the world's largest network.''
Apple's deal with China Mobile is a major coup for Cook, who has faced pressure from some Wall Street analysts and shareholders over a perceived lack of innovation at the company since the death of his mentor and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.
This year Apple expects holiday sales between $55 billion and $58 billion, which is at the high end of Wall Street expectations.
Apple stock price, which has essentially been flat for the year, jumped 3.8 percent Monday, a day after the deal was struck after six years of negotiations.
The global tech major's shares have soared 33 percent in the past six months, reversing steep losses in the first half of the year
The China Mobile deal is very important for Apple because the company's growth rate in the U.S., its biggest market, has been slowing lately.
The iPhone, while popular around the world, has faced tough competition in recent years from cheaper smartphones running Google's Android software. Collectively, Android phones far outsell Apple's iPhone.
Analysts estimate that Apple could sell between 20 million and 30 million iPhones on China Mobile's network next year. That would effectively double the number of iPhones it sold in the US in 2013.
Some 50 million iPhones have been sold in China in the past two and a half years, according to analyst estimates.
However, a survey by Bernstein Research said some China Mobile consumers use smaller carriers for data services. Apple already has agreements with China Telecom and China Unicom., which have about 455 million mobile accounts.
China Mobile is betting it will be able to turn things around in 2014.
The breakthrough with Apple came about just after the government ended several years of anticipation by licensing China Mobile and its two rivals to introduce LTE networks.
China Mobile has invested heavily in the new technology, with almost $6.9 billion budgeted this year for its 4G network and nearly 200,000 base stations.
It plans to have 4G services available in 16 cities by the end of 2013 and extend coverage for 340 cities by the end of 2014. The 4G network and the new iPhones might help China Mobile win over more customers.