China Mobile still talking to Apple on iPhones

A worker cleans glass in front of an iPhone 5C advertisement at an apple store in Kunming, Yunnan province, in this October 27, 2013 file picture. REUTERS/Wong Campion

HONG KONG (Reuters) - China Mobile Ltd, the country’s largest mobile operator, said it is still negotiating with Apple Inc to offer iPhones on its network, commenting on a media report saying that a long-awaited agreement had been reached.

Earlier in the day, the Wall Street Journal reported that the two giants had signed a deal, citing an anonymous source familiar with the matter.

“We are still negotiating with Apple, but for now we have nothing new to announce,” China Mobile spokeswoman Rainie Lei said, declining to elaborate. Apple also declined comment.

China Mobile is one of the world’s last major carriers and the only mobile operator in China not offering the iPhone.

It has trailed its smaller domestic rivals China Unicom and China Telecom Corp Ltd in attracting users to its home-grown 3G standard.

The Wall Street Journal said the rollout of iPhones by the world’s largest mobile carrier by users, with more than 700 million subscribers, is expected to start around the time of a December 18 China Mobile conference in the city of Guangzhou.

Earlier in the week, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued 4G licenses to China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom in another widely expected move.

China Mobile’s 4G TD-LTE licence paves the way for it to offer iPhones as Apple’s latest models support the standard.

On Thursday, China Mobile shares in Hong Kong ended 0.5 percent lower, while China Unicom was down 1.2 percent and China Telecom rose 0.3 percent.

Reporting by Lee Chyen Yee in Singapore, Clement Tan in Hong Kong and Paul Carsten in Beijing, editing by Mark Heinrich