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SAN FRANCISCO — Apple's stock rose Thursday following reports of an agreement with China Mobile that gives the tech firm's iPhones access to the world's largest mobile phone carrier customer base.

Apple shares closed at $567.90, up $2.90, or 0.5%.

The release of iPhones onto China Mobile's network, which boasts more than 700 million subscribers, is expected to start later this month, according to the report in The Wall Street Journal, citing a person familiar with the situation.

USA TODAY could not independently confirm the report. Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

Apple's deal for entry into the world's largest mobile phone market has been reported in the works for the past few years. CEO Tim Cook met with China Mobile Chairman Xi Guohua in July for discussions, according to Reuters.

If Cook travels to Beijing for the reported mid-December announcement of this latest deal, it might be an indicator of how important both firms consider the agreement.

The iPhone 5c and 5s have been available in China since the U.S. launch, in Apple stores and through China Unicom and China Telecom. But the iPhone is no longer the "it" phone in China, and China Mobile has plenty of deals for good Android phones with other manufacturers.

Wall Street analysts have been anticipating Apple would strike an arrangement with China Mobile that could boost its sales. Shares of Apple last week saw gains amid raised expectations that a deal was near.

Apple's launch of its lower-cost iPhone 5c model was criticized by analysts for its price coming in too high for China's market. While it runs as low as $99 with a contract in the U.S., the model price starts at $649 unlocked, which is how phones are typically purchased in China.

Bill Bishop contributed from Beijing.

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