China Unicom, the company rumored to have won a contract to sell iPhones in China, plans to start trials of its 3G network within the next few months.
A China Unicom spokeswoman said the company plans to offer 3G services in 284 cities by the end of this year as it races to deploy its network against its two rivals, China Mobile and China Telecom.
She also confirmed her company is in talks with Apple to sell the iPhone in China, but declined to give further details.
Ericsson last week won a contract to build 3G networks for China Unicom in almost half of the country's provinces, Ericsson said in a statement. The new equipment will expand on networks already built in over a dozen cities for China Unicom's 3G trial launch, which Ericsson said will begin on May 17.
China Unicom's 3G service will use the WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) standard widely used outside China and supported by the 3G iPhone.
A China Unicom delegation visiting Apple made "substantial progress" last week in negotiations over offering the iPhone on its network, a report on Sina.com said, citing a knowledgeable source.
China Mobile, the country's largest mobile carrier ahead of China Unicom, was previously rumored to be in talks with Apple over the iPhone. But China Mobile's 3G network license is for TD-SCDMA (Time Division Synchronous CDMA), a standard developed in China using home grown technology. The iPhone would need modifications to run on a TD-SCDMA network.
China Unicom had 136 million mobile subscribers at the end of February.