An interesting report from Bloomberg takes a look at 5 million iPhone users on the largest and most valuable carrier in the world, China Mobile. What’s surprising about China Mobile’s iPhone user base is the fact that Apple’s smartphone isn’t officially offered on the carrier.
Millions of Chinese Apple lovers are using their iPhones on a network that can’t even offer 3G data speeds for the device due to frequency incompatibilities. If that’s the case, then why are so many people content to use the iPhone on China Mobile? The answer: Wi-Fi.
When examining an iPhone user base on an unofficial carrier, such as T-Mobile in the US, the aspect of Wi-Fi connectivity is often overlooked. As Wi-Fi connectivity becomes more widespread—even in nations like China—people are becoming increasingly comfortable with using the iPhone on a network that doesn’t even offer high-speed data access for the device.
In the case of China Mobile, the iPhone is touted with ads and promotions on the Beijing subway and shops. Interestingly, China Mobile offers Wi-Fi coverage in Beijing for customers that would like to buy the iPhone 4 from one if its five partner retailers.
Some retailers offer 2,800 yuan ($441) gift cards to customers that prepay for Wi-Fi coverage from China Mobile in Beijing. 5 million customers have payed for the iPhone or used these gift cards without the carrier subsidy from China Mobile. That’s pretty amazing.
It’s important to note that there’s an incredible gap between the amount of 3G and 2G customers on China Mobile. The carrier boasts 952 million mobile-phone users, and only 11% have made the jump to a 3G device. While China Mobile continues to add more 3G customers every month, the carrier only has 43.2 million 3G users right now.
Chinese customers don’t mind buying the iPhone to use on Wi-Fi and China Mobile’s 2G network:
“I don’t think 3G is really necessary to enjoy it,” Lang, 22, said. “If I need to use the Internet, there is Wi-Fi. If I want to download an app, I do it on my MacBook at home and sync it to the phone.”
Analysts reaffirm the growing trend in China, thanks to China Mobile’s efforts:
“They realize this is working,” said Paul Wuh, an analyst at Samsung Securities Co. in Hong Kong. “They have 10 million people who were willing to buy an iPhone without any subsidy and use it on the 2G network, so now they are just encouraging that by offering this Wi-Fi package.”
China Unicom is the only current iPhone partner for the nation. The carrier uses the international WCDMA standard to let iPhone customers use 3G in China on its network.
While T-Mobile doesn’t offer a Wi-Fi coverage plan for the iPhone on its network, it’s safe to say that many use Wi-Fi often when running an unlocked iPhone on T-Mobile. 2G is enough for voice and SMS. The heavy data activity can be done on a home or public Wi-Fi network. It’s very difficult to visit a public place, such as a mall, shopping center, office complex, etc. and not find an open Wi-Fi network in the US.
What do you think about using an iPhone on a carrier like China Mobile or T-Mobile with only 2G speeds and Wi-Fi coverage? If you didn’t have the option of 3G, would it be enough?