In its quarterly report to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange yesterday, the Chinese telephone carrier China Unicom announced it had reached a three-year deal with Apple to sell an iPhone model in China. This in a section of the report dedicated to 3G technology progress, so although the precise iPhone model was not stated, we can assume Unicom will be getting a 3G-capable unit.
The timeframe for the launch will be calendar Q4 this year, in keeping with a new 3G marketing campaign that Unicom is simply calling "WO" (as in "whoa!"). "'WO' carries the Company's brand-new service philosophy and reflects the Company's corporate image of 'being innovative,'" reads the report, quotation marks included. "With the continued improvement of the Company's network quality, the further upgrade of the service standard and the official launch of 3G services, 'WO' will offer a brand new experience for users."
Unicom received an official license from the state to deliver WCDMA service to China last January 7. That's an accomplishment, because there actually is something of a competitive market in China for mobile services, although the state often holds the upper hand in determining the market leader for any given segment. China Mobile is actually the largest mobile carrier in China; since March of last year, China Mobile leaked news it was negotiating with Apple for the iPhone 3G. Those negotiations dragged on through September with no deal.
Although China Mobile had repeatedly denied reports that talks had broken off, even when there was no sign of Apple representatives, state-run business media last February finally squelched Mobile's hopes for good, announcing talks with #2 carrier Unicom were on.
Unicom's 3G rollout has been extremely fast, beginning only three months ago with trial service to 56 cities. Today, it's providing some service on a trial basis to 268 cities throughout the country, with its goal being to service 335 cities by the time sale of the iPhone 3G begins.