updated 01:20 pm EST, Thu February 17, 2011
First hints emerge from company sources
Apple and China Telecom appear to be closer to signing an iPhone distribution deal, says Ticonderoga Securities' Brian White. The analyst points to a NetEase claim that one branch of China Telecom has started accepting pre-orders for a CDMA iPhone. He also mentions a microblog post believed to have been made by a China Telecom worker, stating that the CDMA iPhone 4 has made its "first call in China."
White argues that a deal between Apple and China Telecom will probably be struck this year, bringing an end to China Unicom's exclusive local hold on the iPhone. Doing so would give Apple access to an extra 90.5 million potential subscribers; for contrast, Unicom's base is about 167 million. The country's largest cellphone carrier is actually China Mobile, with approximately 584 million customers.
Both Telecom and Mobile have been angling for the iPhone, but technical issues have been the major obstacle. Unicom is the only carrier in China to support the same GSM and HSPA standards used by most iPhones. The Verizon iPhone is in fact the first model to be tied to CDMA and EVDO, and may have been built partly with China in consideration. "Keep in mind, according to the CDMA Development Group, approximately 58% of the estimated 550 million CDMA subscribers worldwide are located in Asia," White remarks.