China Mobile Launches Budget Handset – and High-end 4G Option

China Mobile will become the first Chinese operator to launch a smartphone in its home market after an announcement on the company’s Weibo social page confirmed a range of handsets will go on sale this month.

The handsets will start at $81 (£52.90) for a 4-inch M601 handset, which is powered by a dual-core A9 1.2G processor and has a 3MP camera. A flagship 5-inch 4G-ready device, the M701, will include a quad-core 1.2G processor, an 8MP rear camera and a 1.2MP front-facing camera.

China Mobiles TD-SCDMA 3G network developed to its own local standards are incompatible with many international smartphone handsets, so this move could make it easier for the company to upgrade the mobile experience of existing customers. The world’s biggest mobile operator had 740m customers in June this year, growing by 4.97m in that month alone, but just 137.8m of these have access to 3G, with the rest stuck on 2G.

China Mobile announced back in March that it would be making a $20.2bn upgrade to its network infrastructure so it could offer 4G to its existing customers and also give users the opportunity to own a non-jail-broken iPhone. No terms have yet been outlined for a deal with Apple but the companys slowing net profit has been blamed on its failure to offer iOS devices. The companys main rivals, China Unicom and China Telecom, already use internationally recognised networks which means they can offer iPhones. 

It is not clear yet what operating system the new own-branded smartphones will be running, with Android the likely choice. The third largest handset manufacturer and OS in China is homegrown Xiaomi, after iOS and Android handsets, holding six per cent of the market according to a Flurry stats report in July.

Since the end of 2011, smartphone uptake in China has surpassed the growth rate for the world as a whole.