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China Unicom strikes official iPhone deal

updated 07:50 am EDT, Fri August 28, 2009

China Unicom iPhone Deal

China Unicom on Friday confirmed in its interim results that it had reached an agreement with Apple to carry the iPhone in China. The news supports word of finished talks and will launch the smartphone sometime in the fall. Most terms aren't available, but China Unicom has said the deal extends for three years and that two models will be involved, at least one of which is likely the 16GB iPhone 3GS.

Past agreements in Russia and elsewhere may be clues as to the terms of the deal, as they have often had minimum unit sales guarantees attached. Unofficial details from Chinese site cnBeta have claimed that, in keeping with the conventional Chinese approach to phones, hardware prices will be high in return for lower service rates: while an 8GB iPhone 3G would cost 2,500 RMB ($366) on a two-year contract, the actual service plan would cost just 186 RMB ($27) per month.

Any model should support China Unicom's 3G network, which shares the same base technology as in other iPhone-serviced countries. However, none of them are expected to carry Wi-Fi as government policy typically restricts the short-range wireless standard's use on cellphones.

The deal comes as China Unicom's profit has tumbled 42.1 percent to just over 6.6 billion RMB ($969.2 million) and as it faces increasing pressure from leading carrier China Mobile. The latter is the largest carrier in the world with an estimated 499.5 million subscribers and is about to counter the iPhone with "Ophones," devices made by Lenovo, Dell and other companies that run a custom variant of Google Android known as the Open Mobile System. It includes China Mobile apps and an app store but is also notable for including a deliberately iPhone-like interface.

Regardless, Apple's Chinese move is expected to trigger a sustained surge in iPhone shipments as the sheer population of the country, as well as a continued market for bootleg iPhones, provides a large ready market.

By Electronista Staff


  1. iphonerulez

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: Nov 2008


    I guess some of the

    Chinese are going to have to take out loans to finance their purchase of iPhones. I'm very concerned about whether the typical Chinese citizen is going to be willing to cough up that sort of money for a smartphone without WiFi. I'm happy that Apple has at least got its foot in the door to China. I hope customer service and support can win over buyers.

  1. zeasar

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Feb 2007


    Things you hear...

    ... can be VERY different from what the reality is.

    I have just been to china last week, had dinner with friends in an average restaurant. And it costed us over 1,000 RMB. Remember its only an average restaurant.

    People need to see for themselves instead of repeating what they have heard.

  1. pairof9s

    Senior User

    Joined: Jan 2008


    Yes, but...

    Relative to the amount of iPhones Apple sells currently, selling to a market of 2 billion people means if Apple only gets 1% of the Chinese to buy an iPhone, that is still 20 million phones!

    I'm guessing 1% of them can afford such a phone.


  1. anly

    Forum Regular

    Joined: Apr 2000


    come get ur iphones!

    there's about 1.3billion ppl in china, 2billion is stretching it a bit. but still its a lot of people. for some reason, having nice smart phones is a "status" symbol. before a meeting starts, everyone starts putting their phones on the table. personally that is bad meeting etiquette~

  1. vanchinaman

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Aug 2009


    Things you eat...

    Zeasar... I have lived in China for the last 3 years - and in Shanghai at that, which is probably the most expensive mainland city. 1,000 RMB for an average dinner is simply WAY overpriced... unless there are 8-10 people eating. Heck, I can eat very well for well 50 RMB - and dine great for 100 in one meal... and that's going to be at a western place in Shanghai - not some jiaozi or noodle shop where 15 RMB is enough food to fill you up completely. In 2008, the average salary for URBAN citizens in China was just under 2,500 RMB/month. So, for the wealthiest segment of population, this is still a whole month's salary for a phone on average - not including a contract plan, which is rare here (I am not on one, and rarely spend more than 100 RMB/month including data).

    So yeah, I'd say this has some obstacles. Also, keep in mind that all of my friends (western and Chinese) who are adamant about having an iPhone already have one (including me)- and it's got wireless included since we had to get it from out of China. So what's the draw of getting a crippled phone without WiFi? I think this is a big deal about not a whole lot...

  1. byRyan

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jun 2007



    way are there two competing cell phone companies in china... I thought they were supposed to be communists!

    I mean - I hate the godless commies as much as the next patriot, but one thing that I would like to see is a nationalization of cell phone towers, so I only have one cancer causing tower beaming radiation through me - rather then 5 or 6 - one for each company ;)

    J/K btw

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