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China Unicom Appears Ready To Introduce iPhone

China Unicom Appears Ready To Introduce iPhone
By Mike Kent

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China Unicom has scheduled a press briefing at which it is expected to announce a deal with Apple, Inc. to bring the iPhone 3G to the world's largest mobile-phone market. Apple has reportedly sold $1.5 million in iPhones to a China Unicom subsidiary. The iPhone's Wi-Fi feature is likely to be disabled because China has many Wi-Fi hot spots.

Apple's iPhone 3G is expected to launch in China in October, according to news reports. As we previously reported, Apple is rumored to have sold $1.5 million worth of iPhones to China Unicom subsidiary Guangdong Unicom.

China Unicom, the country's second-largest wireless carrier, has acknowledged talks with Apple but has refused to comment further. Apple typically requires secrecy until an announcement is ready. That announcement could come Friday as China Unicom holds a media briefing on its first-half results.

JLM Pacific Epoch has reported that China Unicom will begin the commercial operation of its 3G network on Sept. 28. The carrier hopes to have 6.5 million users by February.

Reportedly, sales of the iPhone 3G will require a two-year service contract. Other reports indicate the iPhone's Wi-Fi will be disabled. China has a large number of Wi-Fi hot spots.

Yu Zhaonan, manager of Guangdong's consumer department, has said the company paid Apple $292 per unit for its iPhones. The company reportedly plans to sell the iPhones for more than Apple charges in the U.S., with the 16GB iPhone priced at $702 and the 8GB model priced at $351.

China's mobile-phone market is the largest in the world with more than 670 million customers, according to the Ministry of Information Industry. Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi has said mobile-phone sales in China next year could reach 192 million units, compared to 180 million this year.

The deal is also expected to help China Unicom compete against its larger rival, China Mobile.

Estimates are that up to 1.5 million Chinese already have a jailbroken iPhone obtained from unofficial channels, including some bought in the U.S. Legally unlocked iPhones can also be purchased in Hong Kong for about $580 to $810. Copycat devices called HiPhone, iPhone Mini, and iOrgane are also available.

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