iPhone to be sold by Sprint, potentially China Mobile

On Tuesday, it was reported that Sprint Nextel (Overland Park, Kan., U.S.A.) would begin selling the next version of the Apple Inc (Cupertino Calif., U.S.A.) iPhone in mid-October, making it the third U.S. telecom provider to distribute the smartphone.

Last week, another major telecom provider reported talks with Apple over potentially selling the iPhone. China Mobile (Beijing, China) said it would like to start selling the iPhone soon to accelerate uptake of high-end 3G services as it reported first-half profit at the top end of expectations.

China Mobile said it has met with Apple chief executive Steve Jobs several times on introducing an iPhone based on its home-grown TDSCDMA network standard.

The company hopes to launch an iPhone as soon as possible, China Mobile's Chairman Wang Jianzhou said, without giving any timeframe.

Though China has a massive growing mobile market, only 80 million are 3G users, with the rest low-end 2G subscribers who mainly own cellphones to make calls only. As of end-June, China had 907 million mobile phone users, larger than the entire population of Europe. China Mobile is the world's largest mobile operator by subscribers.

The three largest telecom providers in China, China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom Corp Ltd, are trying to attract 3G and smartphone users by offering subsidized handsets from Apple, Samsung Electronics and HTC for multi-year contracts.

So far, China Unicom is the only Chinese carrier to offer iPhones.

"Even if China Mobile strikes an agreement with Apple to sell iPhones, that may not translate to more profitability in the near term because it will create more intense competition," said Patrick Shum, president of BMI Funds Management.

The operator already has 7.44 million iPhone users on its network, even though it did not sell the smartphone through its retail network, China Mobile executives said at a news conference after the release of its results.

Apple currently does not support China Mobile's network and iPhone subscribers using the carrier do not have access to 3G download speeds.

"I met Steve Jobs several times already, but we haven't come to an agreement yet," China Mobile's Wang told a news conference. "All I can say is, it's a common wish of China Mobile and Apple to come to an agreement as soon as possible."

(Editing by Chris Lewis, Vinu Pilakkott and Hans-Juergen Peters)

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