Updated from 8:14 a.m. EST to include more analysis in the 14th paragraph.
NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- It's here, even if it isn't official, just yet.
The long-awaited deal between Apple (AAPL) and China Mobile (CHL) has started to commence, with Fortune first spotting the reservation site, which has since been pulled down as of this morning. The site went live late last night, taking pre-orders for Apple's iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c. It has long been speculated that a deal between the tech giant and the world's largest mobile phone carrier would get done.
Apple already has deals with the other major Chinese carriers, including China Telecom (CHA), and China Unicom (CHU).
Last week, China's official state news agency, Xinhua, reported that China would start commercial use of the 4G network and services starting Dec. 18, bringing high-speed Internet access, data and advanced smartphones to the world's most populous country. China Mobile had 740 million subscribers at the end of June, with 137.9 million of them being 3G users, the demographic Apple is targeting.
The soft launch (since postponed) took place in Suzhou, one of China's most populous and richest cities. With services starting Dec. 18, just two weeks away, it makes sense that China Mobile, through its various subsidiaries, would start taking pre-orders and reservations now.
This has been a deal that's been long in the making, going back to when Apple first launched the iPhone in 2007. There was speculation then that a deal between Apple and China Mobile would happen. There was no official deal between the two behemoths, though there are iPhones already running on China Mobile's network. It's thought that there could be 10 million, if not more, iPhones already on China Mobile's network.
In August, speculation really began to ramp up that a deal was near. China Mobile Chairman Xi Guohua said he was optimistic about a deal between the two companies, noting both parties were "actively negotiating." He noted that there are some "commercial and technology issues that need time to resolve." This official 4G network launch appears to be one of the "issues" he was talking about.