China Mobile in Talks With Apple on Iphone Cooperation

China Mobile Chairman Xi Guohua
Xi Guohua, chairman of China Mobile Ltd. Photographer: Jerome Favre/Bloomberg

China Mobile Ltd., the world’s largest phone company by users, and Apple Inc. are in talks to offer the iPhone, the carrier’s new chairman said.

China Mobile can’t predict if the two sides will come to an agreement this year, Chairman Xi Guohua said at a shareholder meeting in Hong Kong today. Xi chaired his first annual general meeting since assuming office after his predecessor Wang Jianzhou retired in March.

The carrier is counting on a shift to a fourth-generation wireless network to stem a decline in market share among subscribers who use mobile devices to access the Web to watch videos or play games. China Mobile’s homegrown 3G service left it unable to offer popular handsets including Apple’s iPhone, offered by its domestic competitors China Unicom (Hong Kong) Ltd. and China Telecom Corp.

“China Mobile and Apple both have the will to strengthen cooperation,” Xi said. “When there is more specific news, we will disclose it.”

Carolyn Wu, a spokeswoman at Apple, declined to comment on Xi’s remarks.

China Mobile declined 3 percent, the most since April 23, to HK$85 as of 1:12 p.m. in Hong Kong trading. The shares have climbed 12 percent so far this year, more than double the 4.9 percent gain in the benchmark Hang Seng Index, as investors bet a faster rollout of the company’s fourth-generation network will boost sales.

The company will expand its fourth-generation network trial to nine cities, from six in 2011, and add 20,000 base stations to the 900 it tested last year, Chief Executive officer Li Yue told the meeting today, reiterating a plan announced in March. If the trial is a success, the total number of 4G base stations will climb to 200,000 next year, he said.

China Mobile had 667.2 million mobile-phone subscribers at the end of March, the company said last month.

— With assistance by Edmond Lococo

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