The second-largest Chinese mobile operator did not specify which model it would sell, but it did offer details on the service plans it would offer. Chinese iPhone users will be able to get plans with data packages of 450 MB to 4 GB, 120 to 880 SMS messages, and 320 to 3,000 minutes of talk time. It is unclear if users will receive a handset subsidy to make the iPhone more affordable.
The launch of the popular touch-screen smartphone matches nicely with China Unicom's rollout of 3G services. The wireless operator plans to have 3G coverage in 335 cities by the end of the year, and the iPhone could be a key driver in mobile data adoption. The Chinese version of the iPhone will not come with Wi-Fi.
For Apple, the move culminates more than a year of negotiations to get the iPhone in the world's largest cell phone market, as measured by number of subscribers. The iPhone has sold more than 20 million units since its release in 2007, but the majority of these are in mature markets like the United States. China Unicom represents a potentially lucrative market for Apple because it has more 125 million subscribers, which surpasses the subscriber base of AT&T or Verizon Wireless by more than 40 million users.
The sheer size of the Chinese mobile market means it will play an increasingly important role in the industry, as China Mobile alone has more than 500 million users. The majority of Chinese wireless subscribers use entry-level handset, but they are increasingly upgrading to sophisticated handsets. China Mobile is hoping to capitalize on this trend, and it will be rolling out a series of Android-powered "Ophones" this year from companies like Dell, HTC, Motorola, and Samsung.
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