NEW YORK - Apple says it has reached a deal to bring the iPhone to China Mobile, the world's biggest phone carrier.
The deal ends a lengthy courtship and could boost sales of the iPhone in China. The iPhone, once hugely popular in China, has been eclipsed by the rise of lower-priced rival smartphones from Samsung and Chinese companies entered the market.
The iPhone 5S and 5C will go on sale in Apple stores and China Mobil stores beginning Friday, Jan. 17. China Mobil customers can register for phones starting Wednesday Dec. 25.
In this Sept. 20, 2013, file photo, Chinese employees cheer a customer after he bought a new iPhone at an Apple store in Wangfujing shopping district in Beijing.
The companies didn't announce pricing or the terms of the agreement.
The iPhone, while popular around the world, has faced tough competition in recent years from cheaper smartphones running Google's Android software. Collectively, Android phones far outsell Apple's iPhone.
Analysts speculate that Apple could sell another 10 million to 40 million more phones if it reached a deal with China Mobile. Some 50 million iPhones have been sold in China in the past 2 1/2 years, according to analyst estimates.
China Mobile is owned by the Chinese government, and has more than 750 million mobile accounts. However, a survey by Bernstein Research said some China Mobile consumers use smaller carriers for data service. Apple already has agreements with China Telecom Ltd. and China Unicom Ltd., which have about 455 million mobile accounts.
China Mobile wants to have the world's largest 4G network, and the new iPhones might help it win over customers. The company received approval to start operating the faster network earlier this month and plans to have 4G services available in 16 cities by the end of 2013. It aims to provide coverage for 340 cities by the end of 2014.