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5 million iPhone package sale to China Unicom? Carrefour to be a key iPhone distribution partner?

iphone-china-unicom-111-150x150Update – August 13, 2009: According to the Associated Press, China Unicom spokesman Yi Difei has denied the reports of an iPhone deal and large iPhone pre-purchase. Yi Difei stated “The report is not true.”… “There are all kinds of possibilities. There is no particular timetable for the talks.” Despite this denial, Zhou Fang, the CBN reporter who broke the story, discounts the China Unicom denial and noted that he had made audio recordings of the interviews with the Guangdong Unicom executives (Zhou Youmeng and Yu Zaonan) who spilled the beans.

Adding further legitimacy to the original CBN report is a post today on Interfax TMT and the news today from a Carrefour source. Chongqing Evening News, quoting a Carrefour employee, states that the iPhone in China deal is a go and Carrefour would indeed be part of the distribution plan. The report states that iPhones could be ready to go on sale as early as late August and that Carrefour stores in Guangzhou and other costal areas have begun preparing store displays.

Picture 1DoNews in China, citing “unnamed sources,” claims that China Unicom’s handset distribution division Vsens intends to have two other iPhone distribution channels (aside from retail chains) including CarrefourGomeand Suning. iPhonAsia (yours truly) had previously speculated that retail chains distributing iPhones might include Best Buy China and Wal-Mart China.

20073229August 11, 2009: According to an August 11 report in China’s CBN.com(China Business News), China Unicom has agreed to pre-purchase for inventory five million (5,000,000) special “for China” iPhones from Apple. The report states that China Unicom will pay Apple 10 billion CNY (USD $1,463 billion) or 2,000 CNY (USD $292.60) per unit, and that China Unicom will have a 3-year iPhone exclusive in China. CBN cites Guangdong Unicom’s Deputy General Manager Zhou Youmeng, as a prime source for this story.

Guangdong Unicom is a subsidiary of Beijing-based China Unicom. China Unicom’s subsidiaries are often quite independent and don’t always check with the parent in Beijing before launching marketing initiatives or speaking (leaking) to the media. Shanghai Unicom had their wrist slapped rather severely for comments to reporters re the rumored “iPhone deal” and for their publication of iPhone images on their subsidiary website back in March. It will be interesting to see how Beijing handles this latest leak by the Guangdong subsidiary. NOTE: Guangdong/Canton is China’s most populous region with over 150 million people.

445326.binCBN reports that China Unicom employees have been training on thenew model iPhone for China Unicom and it will be ready for launch in September. CBN also claims that Carrefour (134 superstores in China) will be a key iPhone distribution partner in China.

Marbridge Consulting reports that the new model iPhone for China was spotted by reporters attending the signing ceremony for China Unicom’s agreement with Carrefour. The new iPhone was apparently on hand as one of several 3G handsets that will be sold for China Unicom through Carrefour superstores.

Another source for the story, Yu Zaonan, a manager in Guangdong Unicom’s individual client department, stated that the iPhone will be priced at 2,400 CNY (USD $351) for an 8GB iPhone and 4,800 CNY ($702) for the 16GB model. Zaonan qualified his comments to CBN by stating that this plan was contingent on the formal signing of the deal by Apple and China Unicom in Beijing.

This latest buzz matches recent “insider source” leaks reported via Interfax TMT’s Cindy Ging and aJuly 28 report by China’s Oriental Morning Post.

With Greg Joswiak’s (Apple VP for iPhone Product Marketing) very recent trip to China, it appears that the “iPhone in China” deal may soon become more than just a hot rumor. 5 million iPhones will be, by far, Apple’s largest single iPhone package sale.

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