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At last: China Mobile pre-orders for the iPhone to begin Thursday

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Late last week, Apple and China Mobile came to terms, meaning the world's largest wireless carrier can now sell the world's single best-selling smartphone. The question remained "When?," but as Digits reported on Monday, the answer is, Thursday.

That doesn't mean that China Mobile will start distributing the iPhone 5c or 5s on Thursday. Instead, according to a China Mobile customer representative, customers can pre-order iPhones from the China Mobile site beginning on Thursday.

The CSR said:

Customers can begin to pre-order for our new 4G services from Dec. 12 through the company’s website and some dedicated branches in Shanghai. But we will only start providing commercial 4G services after Dec. 18.

Pricing for the iPhone 5s and 5c has not been revealed, not even to customer service reps, the CSR indicated.

As far as when the iPhone 5c and 5s will hit the market, the aforementioned Dec. 18 date seems the most likely.

Initial media interest in the iPhone pre-order program began via an advertisement on the carrier's website (since removed, but shown above). A China Mobile spokeswoman said that she could not comment on the advertisement, which said “4G is here!," as well as inviting customers to pre-order not just the iPhone 5S, but other smartphones from Samsung and Sony that support the company’s new TD-LTE 4G network.

China Mobile is -- by far -- the world's largest single wireless carrier, but it has been losing subscribers to its rivals, China Unicom and China Telecom. As opposed to China Mobile's homegrown 3G technology (TD-CDMA), the other two carriers have used more standard 3G tech, with China Unicom offering iPhones since 2009 and China Telecom since 2012.

Analysts believe the China Mobile deal could bring Apple an additional $10 billion in revenue in 2014. Estimates are that China Mobile subscribers could buy up to 17 million iPhones next year; that would still represent a "mere" 10 percent of the current smartphone installed base at the carrier.

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