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China Mobile flags 4G on website, stokes iPhone speculation

A staff member sets up the new iPhone 5Ss for a display picture at Apple Inc's announcement event in Beijing, September 11, 2013. REUTERS/Ja
A staff member sets up the new iPhone 5Ss for a display picture at Apple Inc's announcement event in Beijing, September 11, 2013. REUTERS/Ja

By Paul Carsten

BEIJING (Reuters) - China Mobile has put an advert for the faster 4G mobile network on its website, raising expectations that a long-awaited distribution deal between the world's largest mobile carrier and Apple Inc may be announced as early as next week.

China Mobile's website, on its main page, displayed a cartoon tornado alongside the words "the invasion of 4G" and the dates "November 9-11" (http://www.10086.cn/1111).

The banner links to a page showing two images of smartphones that resemble iPhones, with the caption: "Special discounts for new handsets? The newest? The biggest discounts?"

China Mobile said it had no further details and Apple officials in China declined to comment about the advertisement.

November 11, or Singles' Day, is the busiest shopping day of the year in China. Last year it generated $4 billion in online sales alone, according to the retail consultants McKinsey Global Institute.

Both companies are poised to gain from a distribution deal.

China Mobile, the only carrier in China that is not offering iPhones, has been aggressively investing to set up a faster 4G network that would allow the smartphones to function at their best.

A deal with Apple could be the key to enticing customers and fending of stiff competition from China Unicom (Hong Kong) and China Telecom Corp.

Apple may also see a boost to earnings, which showed lacklustre growth of just 6 percent in China, the world's biggest mobile phone market.

Apple has spent years trying to ink a deal with China Mobile, with numerous visits to the state-owned carrier's Beijing headquarters and repeated insistence that the Chinese market is crucial to the company.

China's government is expected to grant 4G licenses by the end of the year. The latest iPhones, the 5S and the 5C, have already been approved by the Chinese authorities for use on these faster networks.

(Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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