updated 09:50 am EST, Wed March 3, 2010
Local restrictions hamper progress
China Unicom is in talks with Apple regarding a Wi-Fi-capable iPhone, according to the carrier's CEO, Chang Xiaobing. "I know that in the market there is hope we will offer an iPhone with Wi-Fi," Xiaobing recently remarked outside an event in Beijing. "We have been holding talks with Apple in this area." Foxconn is already rumored to be working on a China-specific iPhone with Wi-Fi.
Although the iPhone has been on sale in China since October 30th, sales have been limited relative to the size of the country's population. Some of the blame is thought to lay with the lack of Wi-Fi support in current Chinese models, a function of the communist government's demand for the WAPI security protocol on any Wi-Fi-equipped cellphone. While this can in theory be added, it would require changes that Apple has so far been hesitant to make.
IDG News notes that Unicom sales are also being crippled by the separate status of Hong Kong, which does not require WAPI and sells Wi-Fi-ready iPhones -- through different carriers -- for substantially less than in the rest of China. Whereas a contract-free 32GB iPhone 3GS costs roughly $1,024 in a city like Beijing, the same combination is only $800 in Hong Kong. Better deals can also be had through the Chinese gray market, which sells a variety of foreign iPhones.