Chinese iPhone deal shows more hints of progress

Hints of progress toward Apple’s goal of selling the iPhone in China have appeared on its own Web site and that of a Chinese government organization.

An Apple handset that uses one of the next-generation mobile standards offered in China has appeared on the approved product list of the State Wireless Inspection Center, a government-managed industry arbiter. The handset, apparently an iPhone, was cleared last month to use its assigned frequency range for five years, according to the center’s Web site.

Local carrier China Unicom, which is negotiating with Apple about offering the iPhone in China, operates a network based on the standard used by the approved Apple handset, WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access).

Separately, Apple posted an ad on its Web site for a Beijing-based job overseeing “iPhone training” across Asia. The job’s tasks include designing training for carrier partners that sell the iPhone.

Apple has said it hopes to start iPhone sales in China in the next year. But its talks with China Unicom have hit disputes over whether the phone will use Wi-Fi and whether China Unicom will be allowed to pre-install non-Apple programs, such as a media player other than iTunes, analysts say.

China appears to have lifted a long-standing ban on Wi-Fi in handsets in recent weeks. But it has gone on to require phones with Wi-Fi also to use a China-developed security protocol for wireless LANs, said Liu Ning, an analyst at BDA, a telecommunications research company.

The protocol, called WAPI (WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure), can also be used without dual support for the equivalent Wi-Fi protocol, Liu said.

The iPhone might require an additional chipset to support WAPI, though a software upgrade might also make it compatible, he said.

The frequency approval is just one of three government tests the iPhone must pass to receive a network access license. But the “major difficulty” for Apple is still the terms of cooperation with China Unicom, Liu said.

How to split revenue from sales in the iPhone’s App Store is another snag in discussions about what applications the carrier can put on the phone, he said.

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