China United Telecommunications (China Unicom) is reportedly sending top executives to meet with Apple in the U.S. next month as rumors that the operator plans to bring the iPhone to China gain steam.
China Unicom executives are going to the U.S. to negotiate with Apple over the introduction of the iPhone , and are likely to set a release date, according to a report (in Chinese) carried by Sina.com, citing “knowledgeable sources.”
China Unicom plans to launch WCDMA (Wideband Code Divison Multiple Access) 3G services in May.
In recent months, Apple had been rumored to be holding talks with China Mobile Communications, the country’s largest mobile operator, about selling the iPhone in China. But those talks were always a long shot due to technological and business reasons, and lately rumors have been circulating that China Unicom is talking to Apple about selling the iPhone.
The 3G iPhone supports WCDMA, which is widely used in Asia, North America and Europe. However, China Mobile was granted a license to offer 3G services using TD-SCDMA (Time Division Synchronous CDMA), a different 3G technology that was developed in China and is significantly less mature from a development standpoint.
Even before Chinese regulators made the news official last month, China Mobile was long been expected to receive a license for TD-SCDMA, not WCDMA. For China Mobile to offer the 3G iPhone, Apple would be required to redesign the handset using new components that would need to be sourced from different suppliers. These changes would greatly increase the cost to Apple and likely result in higher prices for end users.
One of the main sticking points between Apple and China Mobile was the Apple Store, which the company uses to sell and distribute third-party applications, Sina reported. This was a sales channel that China Mobile, which has its own plans for an application store. did not want to yield to Apple’s control.
For this reason, a deal to bring the iPhone to China will likely involve significant concessions from China Unicom to meet Apple’s requirements, the report said.