Following weeks of speculation, Apple has finally reached an agreement with China Unicom to bring its much-coveted iPhone to the world’s largest mobile market. The devices will go on sale during the fourth quarter of 2009 under a three-year deal and, as expected, they will be stripped of their Wi-Fi capabilities to comply with government regulations.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Unicom will not share revenue with Apple - as most partners do. Instead, it will purchase the handsets on a wholesale basis and resell them to consumers. It isn’t yet known how much the device will cost Chinese buyers, or what airtime packages they will have to sign up for, but company executives did say they plan to offer subsidies to lower the iPhone's price.
Indeed the carrier's challenge will be to price the iPhone and accompanying plans at competitive levels. Imported iPhones currently sell on the gray market for as little $680, and those include Wi-Fi functionality.
For Apple, China represents a huge untapped market with nearly 700 million wireless subscribers and just a handful of carriers giving service. China Unicom alone had 141 million wireless users at the end of July. Meanwhile, China Telecom, the country's third wireless carrier, is reportedly in talks with RIM to offer Blackberry handsets in China and with Palm to add the Pre to its lineup.