Chinese telecom carrier, China Unicom (NYSE:CHU), announced on Friday the signing of a three-year agreement with Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) on the introduction of the iPhones into the Mainland China, ending this way months of speculation about when the wildly popular device would make its long-delayed debut in the world’s largest mobile market in terms of subscribers.
Unicom, the country’s second-largest mobile phone operator after China Mobile Ltd (NYSE:CHL)..(China Unicom had 141 mln users at the end of July, compared with 498 mln for China Mobile), said the iPhone would be available for sale in Mainland starting in the fourth-quarter. During the multi-year deal, which doesn’t include revenue sharing, China Unicom is expected to purchase iPhones from Apple on a wholesale basis.
Unicom, which offers 3G mobile services based on the wide band code division multiple access technology widely used in Europe and Asia, would be the first Chinese phone company to carry the iPhone, though thousands of unlocked iPhones brought in from other markets are already in use in China. According to estimates by technology research firm BDA China Ltd ; there are well over 1.5 million of the devices in China.
China Unicom Chairman and CEO Chang Xiaobing said at a news briefing that the telecom carrier will offer two versions of the 3G iPhone in the 4th quarter, and that the phone will be sold with its Wi-Fi Internet function disabled, which is required by Chinese regulations.
The iPhone deal comes alongside the rollout of Unicom’s new 3G network. Chang said Friday that the official commercial launch of the network will be on September 28, covering 285 cities.
Also today, Apple confirmed the deal with China Unicom, but declined to give further details.
As we mentioned in our last post about the prospects of this deal, it remains to be seen how well the iPhone will do in China.