After more false starts and rumors than we can count comes the official – sort of – news. Wireless carrier China Unicom says it has signed a deal with Apple to offer the iPhone in China. Gray market iPhones and all-out rip-offs already exist there, but Unicom will be the first carrier to sell it in an official capacity. However, some of the phone’s features will apparently be disabled in order to satisfy the Chinese government.
China Unicom, the second largest wireless carrier in China, has announced it will begin carrying iPhones in the third quarter. The terms of the deal seem to be more favorable to the carrier than those of other carrier deals Apple has managed to strike in the past.
While neither company is apparently ready to say much about the deal, Reuters quoted China Unicom chairman and chief executive Chang Xiaobing as saying iPhones would be priced competitively.
According to the Wall Street Journal China Unicom will not share revenue with Apple, as other wireless carriers offering iPhones do.
Landing the China deal is a huge boost for Apple, as markets in the developed world, except for Japan, are generally saturated.
China Unicom has nearly 140.4 million GSM subscribers, according to a 2009 interim results announcement. According to earlier reports in the Chinese business press, China Unicom has agreed to buy 5 million iPhones for $1.46 billion.
As of June, Apple had sold 26.4 million iPhones in more than 80 countries.
Fortune Brainstorm Tech reports that China has some 700 million mobile customers. An estimated 1.5 million gray market and counterfeit iPhones have already made their way to China.