China Unicom to sell iPhones with local Wi-Fi support

Although iPhones have been officially sold in China since last year, the devices have come without Wi-Fi support in order to comply with Chinese laws. But now that is set to change as China Unicom is preparing to sell iPhones with Wi-Fi capabilities later this month.

A spokesman with the iPhone carrier China Unicom said the company will start offering the 8GB iPhone 3GS with Wi-Fi support possibly by the end of the week. He declined to give any further details. The Chinese media, however, has reported that the handset will be released on August 9 and that the device will cost 4999 renminbi ($736) under a 24-month contract plan that includes the product.

Apple was originally forced to drop Wi-Fi support from its iPhones when the device was introduced to the mainland market. At the time Chinese regulators required all handsets to use the domestically developed wireless LAN security protocol known as WAPI (WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure).

But last month, regulators issued a license for an Apple iPhone with Wi-Fi support using the WAPI security protocol. Apple would not comment on China Unicom’s release of the iPhone, said company spokeswoman Carolyn Wu.

The addition of the Wi-Fi support will likely generate more sales for the device in China said Mark Natkin, managing director of Marbridge Consulting based in Beijing. More importantly, it could give a boost to official sales of the iPhone, luring consumers away from China’s gray market vendors, which have already been offering iPhones with Wi-Fi support.

Although the device’s success will depend on its price, Nakin said, “If you purchase a Wi-Fi enabled iPhone with China Unicom you know its authentic. You don’t have to worry if you are buying a genuine iPhone or a knock-off.”

As for the possibility of the iPhone 4 being sold in China in the near future, China Unicom said it has no news regarding the matter.

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