China Unicom, as promised, launched its 3G service in 55 cities Sunday — with plans to expand to 284 cities by the end of September — but there was nothing in Chinese press accounts about its negotiations with Apple to carry the iPhone.
It had been widely suggested that Apple would bring the iPhone to mainland China May 17, 2009.
This was World Telecom Day and the day China was scheduled to get its first 3G service based on WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access), the protocol used by the iPhone 3G.
China’s 640 million mobile subscribers represent the biggest prize on the planet for cell phone makers.
Before he went on a medical leave in January, Jobs had reportedly been working— without success — for more than a year to negotiate an iPhone deal with China Mobile, the country’s (and world’s) largest carrier with 477 million customers at last count.
One of several sticking points was the fact that China Mobile is planning to use its home-grown TD-SCDMA (Time Division Synchronous Code Division Multiple Access) protocol for 3G cell-phone coverage. In order for Apple to serve China Mobile’s customers, it would have had to build a special Chinese iPhone with a new cellular modem chipset.
Then a flurry of Chinese language news reports suggested that Apple had switched horses and was in serious negotiations with China Unicom, the country’s second-largest carrier (135 million mobile customers), which hada high-profile launch of its 3G WCDMA service in 55 cities — but without the iPhone.
In March, China Unicom’s Shanghai branch briefly posted an ad for the iPhone, as if the device were already in stock.
Apple’s COO Tim Cook told analysts , ‘We would like to be in China within the next year. We are currently working on that, but I have got nothing specific to announce.’
CCCMoney.com suggested possible days might be Monday, June 8. This will be the World Wide Developers Conference keynote, a logical place to unveil new iPhone hardware and announce a big distribution deal
Or ;ate June or early July — the timeframe in which Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster speculates Apple may host a special event to celebrate Steve Jobs’ return and launch iPhone 3.0.
Or very possibly, even very probably, some other date.
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