Could the Apple iPhone finally be going to China?
After months of speculation and rumors, reports surfaced on Thursday indicating that Apple will officially launch the iPhone 3G in China come October.
Though there is no official word from Apple, Chinese news site 163.com is reporting that Apple has struck a deal with China Unicom, the second largest carrier in China behind China Mobile.
The Wall Street Journal, however, is reporting that the iPhone deal between Apple and China Unicom is not yet wrapped up, but is close to completion.
China Unicom plans to start the commercial operation of its 3G network service on Friday, Sept. 28, JLM Pacific Epoch reported, citing China Unicom insiders. China Unicom hopes its 3G network will attract 6.5 million users by February 28, 2010.
Additional reports in Chinese media indicate that along with launching its 3G network on Friday, China Unicom will also detail its release of the Apple iPhone.
The discussions between China Unicom and Apple to bring the iPhone to China have been the subject of much speculation over the past several weeks, with China Unicom repeatedly acknowledging that it is in talks with Apple but refusing to discuss those negotiations further. Apple has not openly discussed its plans for bringing the iPhone to China.
The same report from 163.com indicates that the iPhone 3G will be sold with a two-year contract in China, and the Chinese version of the iPhone will come with the Wi-Fi connectivity disabled.
Word that China Unicom will reveal its iPhone plans this week comes after reports surfaced indicating that the Chinese carrier paid roughly $1.5 billion to buy 5 million iPhones from Apple earlier this month.
China has been untapped territory for the Apple iPhone. An Apple deal with a Chinese telecom company would open the door to 1.3 billion potential new customers, roughly 650 million of which use mobile phones. Opening the iPhone floodgates in China would be a major coup for Apple as Apple continues to gain smartphone market share over its competition.