Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Did China just open the door for Apple's iPhone?

May 26, 2008: 6:09 PM ET

There were plenty of losers Monday in the wake of the People's Republic of China's sweeping overhaul of its telecommunications industry.

China Mobile lost more than $25 billion in market value after the government announced over the weekend that it was merging two smaller competitors in an effort to weaken the giant carrier's hold on the country's cell phone business -- prompting Goldman Sachs to issue a rare "sell" rating on China Mobile's (CHL) shares.

Markets sank across the Pacific Rim on the news. Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 2.4%. The Shanghai Composite Index dropped 3.1%. Japan's Nikkei slumped 2.3% to its lowest level in a month

But there may be several winners: including Steve Jobs' Apple.

Since last fall, Jobs has been trying -- without success -- to negotiate an iPhone deal with China Mobile. The country's 583 million subscribers represent the biggest prize on the planet for cell phone makers -- the last missing piece in Jobs' plan to blanket the earth with iPhones -- and China Mobile controls two thirds of them.

But since the companies last talked, two things have changed. In its recent flurry of deals with other foreign carriers, Apple seems to have backed away from its insistence on hefty revenue-sharing formulas in exchange for exclusivity -- the sticking point in its early negotiations with China Mobile.

And now China Mobile's hand has been weakened by its own government.

A Chinese statement issued Monday said that the mergers would set in motion the awarding of licenses for 3G service that supports wireless video, Web surfing and other services, according to an AP report.

That report added that the restructuring would create opportunities for foreign equipment vendors such as Ericsson (ERIC), Alcatel-Lucent (ALU), Nokia (NOK) and Siemens (SI).

We're adding Apple (AAPL) to that list.

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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