Sources said that Apple Inc is to hug the huge Chinese market, leaking the pictures of new iPhone models for Unicom in China, NetEase reported on Friday.
The new iPhone is reportedly a GSM/WCDMA model that operates on the 900MHz, 1700MHz and 1900MHz bands. It also includes Bluetooth, but no Wi-Fi.
News on the phone from China, as translated by iPhoneinChina.com, suggests the new model could fall under the Unicom WCDMA standard.
China Unicom runs a GSM/UMTS 3G mobile network using the same signaling technology at AT&T in the U.S. and most other carriers worldwide. Existing iPhone models are already compatible with China Unicom's network, though WCDMA is a third-generation GSM technology.
Pictures of the new Chinese iPhone show a 16GB model that operates on the 3G spectrum. But it's not confirmed if China Unicom will offer 32 GB iPhones with Apple.
The Hong Kong model includes both English and Traditional Chinese text on the back, and says the model is WCDMA .
According to the listing posted on China's State Radio Regulatory Commission (SRRC) website, we're looking at a GSM / WCDMA cellphone complete with Bluetooth, an internal model number A1324, with manufacturer called Apple Inc. The approval date is May 7th, 2009.
The statement says that the certificate expires in five years, which should give China Unicom plenty of time to capitalize on its reported three-year deal to offer the phone in mainland China.
However, officials close to the matter said the deal was not final.
In February, China Unicom was fingered as Apple's most likely partner by British consulting firm Ovum, followed by a leak of iPhone information inadvertently posted by China Unicom's website and an admission by the company that it was in talks with Apple in March.
China Unicom, with 135 million customers as of February 2009, is a definite second fiddle to China Mobile, which has 488 million customers.
By comparison, Verizon Wireless, the biggest mobile carrier in the U.S., claims more than 86 million customers.
The vast size of the Chinese market has kept observers intently interested in how and when Apple would officially enter the market with the iPhone.
China is clearly a big opportunity for Apple, said Shaw Wu, a Kaufman Bros. analyst.
Apple sold 5.2 million iPhones in 80 countries in the most recent quarter, but the must-have gadget still isn't available in China - at least not officially, Wu wrote in a recent research.
Wu claimed that China Unicom would be the frontrunner in marketing Apple's phone in the country.
Wu also predicted Apple was on track for a China deal by the end of the year.
However, Apple executives only said they planned to begin selling the iPhone within the next year and described the negotiations as a priority project on its recent earnings call.
That may have been cover to keep its negotiations productive as Apple pitted the Chinese carriers against each other to gain the best deal.
In addition to phone network compatibility, China Unicom may be more open to allowing Apple to run its own software store and retain control over iPhone features such as WiFi and Bluetooth.
In contrast, China Mobile has expressed an unwavering demand to exclusively operate its own mobile software store, a stance also adopted by Verizon in the U.S.