HONG KONG China Mobile, the world's biggest telecom carrier by subscribers, said on Wednesday it is negotiating with Apple Inc to carry the popular iPhone in China.
China Mobile is the only Chinese operator that does not officially carry the iPhone because its homegrown 3G technology is not supported by the chips used in current iPhone models.
Analysts have said next-generation iPhones will likely use a Qualcomm Inc chip that would support China Mobile's network, removing the key technology barrier for a deal.
"We've been actively talking to Apple on how we can cooperate," China Mobile Chairman Xi Guohua, who assumed the post in March, told a shareholders meeting. "I can't give you too many details, but I'd like to repeat that both sides do hope to boost our cooperation," Xi added after the meeting.
He made the comments in response to a question about when China Mobile would sign a deal for the iPhone. Rivals China Unicom and China Telecom have already signed contracts with Apple.
Xi also said China Mobile is trying to expand its services outside mainland China by offering 4G services in Hong Kong this year and is hoping to provide mobile service between the United States and China.
However, media reports have said U.S. authorities might deny its application due to security concerns.
"We want to become a more global company. For that to happen, we are interested in tapping other markets such as Hong Kong and the United States," Xi said.
"We have applied to the United States for a license, but it's not been rejected yet. Rather, it's undergoing the relevant procedure. We hope the U.S. government will give us their approval soon for us to expand our services there."
China Mobile also said it was expanding tests of its latest generation TD-LTE mobile network. The company has completed initial testing with 850 base stations in six cities, such as Hangzhou in China's east, and expects to complete the next phase of tests by June 2013, executives said earlier this year.
TD-LTE refers to "time division long-term evolution" technology that allows for more voice connections, faster data speeds and easier network upgrades.
China Mobile executives said on Wednesday the trials will be expanded to 10 cities, including Beijing, with the number of base stations increasing to more than 20,000 this year.
There are now 72 LTE operators that have launched commercial services, including 25 networks launched so far in 2012, according to a May report by the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA).
Commercial LTE services are already available in Asia in Australia, Hong Kong, India, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore and South Korea, the GSA said.
China Mobile shares are up about 13 percent this year, outperforming the Hang Seng Index's rise of about 5 percent.
The carrier said subscribers in March rose to 667.20 million, more than twice the population of the United States, including 59.56 million 3G subscribers.
(Reporting by Lee Chyen Yee; Editing by Chris Lewis and Matt Driskill)