The world’s largest mobile phone carrier is hoping to get a bite of Apple. Specifically, executives at the state-owned carrier are hoping to see China Mobile bring its customers both the Apple iPad and a new version of the iPhone that supports China’s proprietary 3G mobile standard.
In the latter issue, China Mobile uses a different 3G standard than most everyone else, TD-SCDMA, which isn’t compatible with the iPhone. Currently, China Unicom – another state-owned competitor of China Mobile – is the exclusive carrier of the iPhone, as its 3G network is compatible. And we thought there was carrier confusion in the United States.
To further complicate matters, the iPhone’s high cost has also kept it from being the smash seller that it has been in most parts of the world; with the notable exception of Korea, home to LG and Samsung. But even the China Unicom version has been “watered down,” so to speak, as it lacks Wi-Fi compatibility. This is something China Unicom would like to see improved as well. Apple hasn’t been the only company approached about playing smart with the TD-SCDMA standard either, Research in Motion previously announced bringing the BlackBerry to China Mobile later this year.
As for the iPad, China Mobile has expressed interest, as the e-reader market is taking off. The issue is how would China Mobile control the content? China is clearly hoping to get more people reading, and the iPad could certainly be a way to filter the content, as well as the message that gets to the masses. Could all this be the beginning of a new Digital Cultural Revolution in China?
One reason I would be quick to say no, at least for today, is that China is currently home to approximately 730 million mobile subscribers, making the mobile penetration rate in China at around 60 percent. Neighboring Asian countries in Japan and South Korea have penetration rates around 100 percent, but getting products such as the iPhone and iPad to the masses could increase penetration numbers. We’ll have to watch and see how that plays out, including whether or not it will have a greater reach throughout the rest of the world.
It was also reported late last week that China Mobile is looking at investment and acquisition targets not just in Asia, but as far reaching as Africa. In the past decade, China has been heavily investing in Africa, building roads, helping development the infrastructure and working with several African nations. However, some pundits have noted this isn’t so much from the goodness of their hearts, but is rather a form of neo-colonialism. What China is doing is really to help China, a nation that needs the raw materials of Africa, to grow its domestic economy.
So while China has invested in Nigerian mining operations, the country’s largest mobile carrier is now looking to invest in Nigerian Telecommunications Ltd. Even more interesting is that the Nigerian government is looking for an equity investment from China Unicom as well. The final question for this is whether it is fair to call this neo-colonialism or just a new form of business in the 21st century? Let’s just hope that this is good for business in China, and in the end, good for the people in Nigeria.