China Unicom to sell iPhone next quarter

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China Unicom has reached a 3-year deal with Apple to offer the iPhone in China, it said Friday, confirming rumors that have swirled for months.

The company expects to launch the phone in the fourth quarter this year, it said in a statement. The deal brings the iPhone to a huge market in a country with nearly 700 million mobile subscribers.

The iPhone is already popular among fashion-conscious Chinese users who buy smuggled versions or get the phones abroad.

It was not immediately clear what model of the iPhone China Unicom will offer, but an unnamed Apple device that has received one of the regulatory licenses needed to be sold in the country supported the 3G standard promoted by China Unicom, WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access). That standard is also used in Europe and by some U.S. operators.

The regulatory approval for the unnamed device also did not list Wi-Fi as a feature: China has not allowed Wi-Fi on mobile phones until this year, when it began allowing handsets that support a domestically developed security protocol for wireless LANs.

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