iPhonAsia comment: File this under rumor and guesswork …
There have been several reports that a China Unicom executive team was in Cupertino the week of March 8th to finalize an iPhone deal. A deal may soon be signed, sealed and delivered. Our best guess for timing of a formal iPhone 3G deal announcement is on or around May 17th 2009 (China Unicom’s target launch for W-CDMA 3G in 55 major cities) with an official iPhone 3G launch in Summer 2009.
There remains a chance for an Apple iPhone Nano (EDGE 2.5G only) deal with China Mobile, but nothing solid other than “talks continue” under an NDA. The China Telecom iPhone deal rumors have abated and been replaced by rumors that China Telecom is in talks with Research in Motion for a Blackberry deal. These press rumors have been flatly denied by both China Telecom and RIM.
NOTE: The article below paints China Unicom as the weaker of the three wireless telecom firms in China. China Unicom (#2) is actually in a solid second position to China Mobile (#1). China Telecom is the smaller (#3) player in wireless albeit with strong numbers in broadband and landline subscribers. See iPhonAsia graphic below.
According to a report via hexum.com (translated from Mardarin), China Unicom is now completing a build of its W-CDMA 3G network in Zhengzhou, capital city of Henan Province. The W-CDMA network is now undergoing optimization.
hexum.com China Unicom is scheduled to kick off W-CDMA 3G services on May 17 in 55 major Chinese cities to compete head on with China Mobile‘s TD-SCDMA and China Telecom’s CDMA2000 3G services. And the network is scheduled to be extended to 284 cities at the end of this year.
By that time, China Unicom will provide WCDMA service subscribers with 185- and 186-prefix mobile phone numbers. And for regular users of China Unicom, who use 130-, 131-, 132-, and 156-prefix numbers, will be able to switch to W-CDMA services without changing their numbers.
Competition among the three major Chinese mobile telecoms operators for the 3G market has reached a crucial point. China Telecom launched the data cards during the 2009 Conferences of NPC and CPPCC in Beijing, which claimed a download speed of 3.1Mbps. China Mobile held down the Internet access rate for 3G mobile phones to CNY 0.01 per KB, equivalent to merely one third of the previous rate.
As the weaker player among the big three, China Unicom is desperately hoping to catch up with its archrivals in the 3G era. The 3G network of China Unicom is based on the 3.5G HSUPA technologies, which enjoys a download and upload speed of 14.4Mbps and 5.76Mbps.
China Unicom requests telecoms equipment makers such as Ericsson, Huawei Technologies and ZTE to finish 3G network construction in Wuxi, Zhengzhou and Shenzhen this month, respectively. However, the network construction in Beijing and Shanghai has made less progress so far.
Huawei Technologies says that besides Zhengzhou, it will deliver 3G networks for some cities in the Pearl River Delta to China Unicom before March 15.
China Unicom is set to invest as much as CNY 10 billion in building 3G networks in the coming two years, CNY 60 billion of which will be carried out in 2009. Now it is testing WCDMA services in a string of major Chinese cities.
The long-term investment strategy of China Unicom took hold shortly after the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued 3G licenses on January 7 to three Chinese telecom carriers. China Unicom got the license to run W-CDMA services.