Word of the deal first emerged in the Wall Street Journal late Wednesday, but a followup report from CNNMoney just hours later refuted the "insider information" with a statement from a China Mobile saying nothing had been signed, but instead that negotiations were "in progress."
Reuters later corroborated the development, with a statement from China Mobile spokeswoman Rainie Lei saying that the carrier is "still negotiating with Apple, but for now we [China Mobile] have nothing new to announce."
Despite the uncertainty surrounding its consummation, it is widely believed that a deal between the two companies is imminent. Previous reports have indicated that the iPhone's appearance on China Mobile's network was being held back until the introduction of the carrier's 4G TD-LTE network, an event that should take place in mid-December now that China's telecommunications regulator has signed off on the launch.
Despite the false start, a China Mobile deal is believed to be imminent.
Additional evidence pointing to a December introduction has accumulated in recent weeks. China's state-run Xinhua News Agency reported in late November that both China Mobile's 4G network activation and the iPhone launch would take place on Dec. 18.
Further, on Monday, a China Mobile subsidiary in the mainland city of Suzhou, near Shanghai, rolled out a web-based reservations system for Apple's handset, though the page was withdrawn.
Analysts believe that an agreement with China Mobile could be a major new revenue driver for Apple. Amit Daryanani of RBC Capital Markets and Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray both predict that the arrangement could result in an additional $10 billion in revenue on sales of 17 million iPhones in calendar 2014.