Apple's iPhone business model, which sees it receive a cut of each subscriber's monthly fee from the mobile network agreeing to sell the device, could be under threat if the world's largest operator gets its way.

Speaking at a GSM Association meeting in Macau, China Mobile's CEO said that his company was discussing carrying the iPhone but that he would not be entering into the same kind of deal as O2 and AT&T have agreed to.

Weight of numbers

Confirming of his reluctance to hand over a percentage of subscriber revenues, Wang Jianzhou told the meeting, "We still think we can maintain the operator-centric model because we have the customers."

Considering that China Mobile currently has just under 350 million subscribers, he may have a point and - more importantly - the bargaining power to persuade Apple to change its approach to iPhone sales.

Apple tackling Asia next

With the iPhone due to reach Asia sometime next year, Steve Jobs and his colleagues will undoubtedly not wish to miss out on China and that means they'll almost certainly have to do business with China Mobile.

Japan, the other regional powerhouse economy, is unlikely to get an iPhone for some time, as it has no GSM network and the Apple handset is not yet available in a suitable 3G version. Not selling the flagship phone in both Japan and China would clearly be unthinkable for Apple.