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Unofficial carrier China Mobile passes 15M iPhone users as compatibility issues fixed

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Despite not being an official Apple partner carrier, China Mobile announced on Monday that a spike of 5 million activations since October has brought the total number of iPhone users on its network to over 15 million following the launch of the iPhone 4S and a fix that allows the device to operate on the carrier's 3G network.

China Mobile chairman Wang Jianzhou said that the telecom has been in talks with Apple over bringing the iPhone to its network, and the two companies are reportedly in "bilateral cooperation" (machine translation) toward the advancement of future 4G handset implementations, according to Sina Tech.

A report from October 2011 put the number of iPhone owners using China Mobile's service at 10 million, meaning that the world's number one mobile operator saw 5 million activations since then. The surge was no doubt led by the launch of the iPhone 4S, which was in such high demand that it caused Chinese Apple Stores to postpone retail sales due to unruly crowds.

Demand for Apple's handset has been so high in China that mobile users have taken to purchasing expensive grey market units to be used on non-partner networks such as China Mobile's.

The fact that the devices can't reach 3G speeds due to incompatibility with the mobile monolith's TD-SCDMA network hasn't dissuaded subscribers from adopting the smartphone, though that hurdle may no longer be a problem if a report from People's Daily Online is accurate.

The baseband chip in the iPhone 4S supports the P frequency band (885-915MHZ), but does not support the E frequency band (880-890MHz) and is thus unable to communicate with China Mobile's network. According to the publication, Apple has modified how the iPhone 4S handles communication with its GSM chip in models built after Feb. 8, and promises a fix to those handsets made before that date in an upcoming iOS update that will possibly lure even more users to the country's largest operator.

Monday's news sheds more light on a possible partnership with China Mobile as recent reports revealed that the companies were in talks regarding 4G TD-LTE integration in an upcoming model of the iPhone. The technology would allow the device to access the telecom giant's unique next-generation network.

Currently, the only official Chinese partner carrier is the country's number two operator China Unicom, which has an exclusive agreement with the Cupertino, Calif., company to sell the iPhone. Apple is scheduled to expand its presence in the Chinese market this week, however, as China Telecom is set to offer the newest iPhone 4S at a fully subsidized price beginning Friday.