China Mobile Chairman Wang Jianzhou told Reuters that its wireless network is home to over ten million iPhones. This number is a very small part of China Mobile's 600 million subscribers, but it's surprisingly high for a carrier that does not currently sell any model of the iPhone. These iPhones on China Mobile are either purchased directly from China's five Apple stores, converts from China Unicom which does carry the iPhone 4 or are iPhones obtained on the black market. It's well known that many iPhones being sold in China are smuggled in from foreign countries and sold to customers in open air markets.
This illicit market may face some competition as China Mobile hopes to carry the iPhone when Apple manufacturers a version compatible with the carrier's TD-LTE standard for 4G. According to Wang, China Mobile does not have a contract with Apple, but Apple has supposedly promised to support TD-LTE when it develops an LTE-enabled iPhone handset. Steve Jobs and Tim Cook have reportedly visited with China Mobile executives to discuss this technology and a possible carrier agreement.
China Mobile is the world's largest wireless carrier and an official agreement would vastly increase the number of potential iPhone owners. Though China Mobile has publicly said several times that it wants the iPhone in an offical capacity, Wang isn't upset by the number of unauthorized iPhones on China Mobile's network. Wang said, "The total number of iPhones in China Mobile's network has reached 10 million -- and we didn't pay any subsidies." That's a nice hidden benefit.