Apple's iPhone 5 appears to have cleared the last hurdle in a series of Chinese regulatory checks, opening the way for the device to finally be sold in one of the company's largest markets.
On Thursday, two iPhone models received the necessary network access licenses from China's Telecommunications Equipment and Certification Center (TENAA). The devices had previously received approval from a pair of Chinese regulatory bodies in September and in October.
TENAA's website does not reveal the name of the devices. But pictures appear to be of the iPhone 5. One of the approved devices has the model number "A1429" and is built for a WCDMA 3G network. It's expected to be sold for the mobile carrier China Unicom, which has 233 million mobile users.
The other version, with the model number "A1442" is built for a CDMA2000 3G network, and is most likely meant for China Telecom, which has 155 million mobile subscribers.
Apple's CEO Tim Cook has previously said he expects the iPhone 5 will go on sale in China sometime in December.
The company has typically started selling its newest products in China a few months after their official launches in the U.S. This has been a boon to China's gray market, in which unofficial vendors will buy the product overseas and then sell it at higher prices to Chinese customers unwilling to wait. Gray market iPhones can often cost $200 or more than the original price.
In the past, demand for Apple's iPhone in China has been high, creating lines of hundreds of people waiting outside company stores in Beijing. And iPhone launches in the country have also created a little drama. In January, one Apple store in Beijing abruptly canceled its first day of sales for the iPhone 4S. This caused one customer to throw eggs at the store in protest. In response, Apple temporarily stopped all iPhone 4S sales at all its physical stores in Beijing and Shanghai.
But despite the past popularity, demand for Apple's latest iPhone could be waning in the country, at a time when domestic handsets are dominating the market, said Sandy Shen, an analyst with research firm Gartner. Many consumers in the country are buying lower-end devices, and some existing iPhone users are switching to Samsung smartphones, she said in an interview last week.
"I think the high-end market is already saturated with Apple's product. People that should have an Apple product, already have one," she said. "If you ask them to upgrade to the iPhone 5, I don't think they will have a strong enough drive to do it because of the lack of innovation in the new iPhone."