Update: A Reuters report says the deal is not officially closed. China Mobile spokeswoman Rainie Le told Reuters that the carrier is "still negotiating with Apple" and confirmed there is "nothing new to announce." Apple also declined to comment.
After years of speculation, rumors and not-so-secret meetings with China Mobile executives, Apple this week finally inked a deal to bring the iPhone to China Mobile. Word of the deal first emerged late on Wednesday evening courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.
The deal provides Apple with a tremendous and arguably unprecedented opportunity for growth. With upwards of 740 million subscribers, China Mobile is by far the largest wireless carrier on the planet. By way of comparison, Verizon, the largest carrier in the US, boasts approximately 120 million subscribers.
News of the China Mobile deal comes just one day after the Chinese government approved TD-LTE licenses for the country's three carriers and approximately three months since Apple received a regulatory license to carry the iPhone on China Mobile's proprietary network.
Regarding a release date, the Journal reports that the iPhone will likely be available for sale by the end of this month and may be timed to correspond with a China Mobile conference set to take place in Guangzhou on December 18.
At the Dec. 18 event, China Mobile plans to unveil a brand for its fourth-generation, or 4G, network. China Mobile executives have said they would only begin to sell the iPhone after introducing 4G services. China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said Wednesday it gave licenses to China Mobile and its smaller rivals to operate the higher-speed mobile networks, clearing one of the last hurdles.
Apple thus far has declined to comment on the report, but it stands to reason that we may very well see a press release announcing the deal sometime tomorrow.