updated 10:35 am EDT, Fri June 19, 2009
China Unicom iPhone done?
A pact between Apple and cellular carrier China Unicom may already be sealed, according to Merrill Lynch analyst Cynthia Meng. "Our industry checks reveal that Unicom and Apple have most likely reached a deal for an exclusive 2-plus year agreement," reads a Meng note obtained by Reuters. "We expect iPhone products to be available in conjunction with the Unicom commercial scale 3G launch in Q4, starting on Oct 1." A Unicom spokeswoman insists that the two companies are still in talks, and has refused to comment further on Meng's claims.
Signs that a deal was nearing emerged earlier this month, when an unidentified Apple phone was approved by China's State Wireless Inspection Center. The country has also removed a ban on cellphone Wi-Fi, though companies must submit to the use of an official network security protocol. Apple's phone has also received a five-year clearance to use an assigned frequency range.
Apple has struggled to bring the iPhone to China, which represents a large potential market but one fraught with problems. Many Chinese are too poor to afford even a subsidized iPhone, and can already buy cheaper imitation devices. Networking problems have included not only the government Wi-Fi ban, but the lack of a 3G network supporting the global WCDMA standard. Carriers in the country have meanwhile objected to Apple's business model, which leaves no quarter for revenue sharing at the App Store, or pre-installation of custom apps.