Since launching Apple Pay in the U.S. last year, Apple (AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. Report has been slow to expand the mobile wallet to other locations. But a new report seems to indicate a launch in China is nearing.
According to Wall Street Journal sources, Apple Pay will hit China by Feb. 8, the Spring Festival holiday. The sources said that Apple had struck deals with China's big four state banks, which will help speed the process along.
Apple declined to comment for this story.
"Apple Pay's approach is a bit different in China versus the U.S. as the main card processors are state-run by the Chinese government, not private," said Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "That requires some finesse to get through that wall. Apple has demonstrated that it knows how to get things done with the Chinese government."
But Apple will still have to overcome a number of regulatory hurdles, especially surrounding the mobile wallet's underlying technology, near field communication (NFC).
China is known for its strict regulations, especially when it comes to banking and payments. Apple will have to work with China UnionPay, the Visa (V) - Get Visa Inc. Class A Report of China, which happens to own all the NFC terminals in China.
Plus, Apple Pay will be competing against the incumbent mobile wallet in China, Alipay, which is operated by Alibaba's (BABA) - Get Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Report financial arm, Ant Financial. Alipay already has 270 million monthly active users, and while Apple does not share exact numbers on how many consumers use Apple Pay, PYMNTS estimates that about 3 million consumers in the U.S. use Apple Pay "every chance they get and/or every time they remember."
China is already Apple's second-biggest market for its devices, which would make the rollout of Apple Pay there much easier.
For the third quarter of 2015, Apple reported $13.2 billion in revenue from China alone. For context, the company brought in $20.2 billion from the Americas and $10.3 billion from Europe in the quarter.
Talk of Apple's interest in getting into mobile payments in China first surfaced in May when Chinese news agency reported that Apple CEO Tim Cook was speaking to both Alibaba and Chinese banks about it. "We very much want to get Apple Pay in China," Cook told Xinhua.
In September, Apple registered an entity in the Shanghai free-trade zone in order to operate Apple Pay in China, according to The Wall Street Journal. Apple has also been beefing up its team in China with some payments experts, as Quartz reported.
Earlier this year, Kelly Sang, a former Alibaba general manager, was promoted to director of Apple Pay in China. Plus, a former country manager for Visa China, Liang Gong, joined Apple in July. Quartz also found deleted job postings that showed further efforts to hire for the Apple Pay team in China.
Bringing Apple Pay to China is a no-brainer, according to Carolina Milanesi, chief of research and head of U.S. business at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech.
"Apple Pay is part of the Apple experience and it would make sense for Apple to roll it out into China," she said. "I very much see it as a way to give Apple users the full experience."