Apple may be looking to build a TD-LTE iPhone earlier than expected, according to a comment from China Mobile Chairman Wang Jianzhou. Jianzhou singled out Steve Jobs while speaking about the possibility of an LTE iPhone outside a conference meeting on Friday. The chairman said "Jobs has expressed his interest in an LTE iPhone and is willing to start the development at an early date."
China Mobile, the largest mobile operator in China as well as the world, is preparing to launch large-scale tests of its TD-LTE network in select Chinese cities including Shanghai and Hangzhou. LTE or Long Term Evolution is the next generation in cellular technology that promises significantly faster mobile broadband speeds. It is commonly referred to as 4G.
These upcoming tests are the precursor to a full-scale launch expected by the end of the year. An earlier demonstration produced download speeds of 80 Mbps, which is 20x faster than current cellular network technology. LTE is poised to explode in China in the next several years. IHS iSuppli predicts capital spending on LTE will double to US$100 million in 2011 and balloon to $1.3 billion by 2014.
China's total mobile user base has grown to over 869 million subscribers and is the largest in the world. While its mobile subscriber numbers are high, China's mobile phone penetration is relatively low at 64%. Whether or not Apple will be "early" with a China Mobile iPhone remains to be seen, but this untapped market presents a unique opportunity for growth that Apple would not want to ignore.