China Unicom Could Announce iPhone as Early as Friday

The announcement of an China Unicom iPhone deal could hit as early as tomorrow according to a Reuters story. The story cites an anonymous analyst who in turn claims to have learned the information from a direct industry source. China Unicom will hold a financial results presentation on Friday, and a carrier spokeswoman confirms that the iPhone will likely come up as a subject of discussion. She has declined to say, however, whether or not a finalized deal will be disclosed.

An anonymous official at Hon Hai (also known as Foxconn) claims that the Taiwanese manufacturer has already been assigned to produce a Chinese iPhone for Apple. Although specifications are as yet unofficial, it is believed the phone will initially lack Wi-Fi, a concession to government restrictions on cellphones. The device should retain 3G access, taking advantage of Unicom’s network, which offers the only iPhone-compatible 3G in China.

The device could go on sale in the region as soon as the fourth quarter of 2009 according to research firms like Merrill Lynch. Chinese sales may prove particularly lucrative; while most people in the country are too poor to afford an iPhone, a population of over 1.3 billion could still ensure millions of sales. Obstacles include an influx of gray-market iPhones, and imitation devices which copy the style if not the function of Apple’s product.

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