Only the iPhone Can Go To China

Apple iPhone
Apple iPhone

They used to say “Only Nixon can go to China“—and now the iPhone will be following in Tricky Dick’s footsteps. China Unicom, one of China’s state-owned mobile operators, has announced that it has reached a multi-year deal with Apple to begin selling the iPhone in China beginning in the fourth quarter of 2009. The company did not offer any financial details of the deal, and did not offer any pricing information for the iPhone in China, saying only that it would be “competitive” with other offerings.

Of course, iPhones have been in China as as long as iPhone have existed; however, these have all been unlocked or jailbroken iPhones purchased in other countries and brought to China—and often resold at exorbitant rates. The deal with China Unicom will mark the first time the iPhone will be formally supported by a Chinese mobile operator.

The deal could be huge for Apple, which has been lining its coffers on revenue generated not only from iPhone sales, but from arrangements with mobile operators to sell the iPhone. The potential for the Chinese market is enormous: although it doesn’t match the revenue generated by mobile markets in Japan and the United States, it does boast some 650 million mobile phone users. Unicom claims to have over 130 million subscribers; China’s largest mobile operator, China Mobile, claims to have more than 450 million.

It’s no secret that Apple has been trying to get the iPhone into China for some time; industry reports have had Apple at odds with Chinese carriers over revenue sharing agreements.

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