China Unicom to launch WiFi iPhone

China Unicom will reportedly launch a WiFi-capable version of the Apple iPhone – a significant step in the heavily regulated Chinese market.

The iPhones currently available in China via Unicom have their wireless capabilities disabled in order to bring them in line with government regulations. However, this has reduced the appeal of the smartphones, so Unicom is hoping that by releasing a WiFi-capable model it will be able to drastically increase sales of the device.

The official Chinese iPhone market is somewhat underperforming due to saturation of ‘grey market’ handsets imported from other regions, while the lofty price tag demanded by China Unicom is not helping – the China Post records the asking price as CNY6,999 (US$1032) for a 3GS handset, and CNY4,999 for the 3G model.

Currently, the exact models which will offer WiFi capabilities are unknown. Unicom customers can choose from several iPhones, including the 8GB 3G, 16GB 3GS and 32GB 3GS models, and the operator is in talks with Apple about offering the iPhone 4 and iPad.

While Apple has made no official announcements, Cellular News has reported that the China Quality Certification Centre (CQC) has certified the iPad for sale in China. However, another government department, the Telecommunications Equipment and Certification Centre, would also have to certify the tablet computer in order for it to be sold in China. This may happen soon – reports indicate that China Unicom may begin selling the iPad from September.

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