China Unicom to finally roll out iPhone with WiFi

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The Independent Tech

China Unicom, the only telecom operator offering Apple's iPhone in the world's largest mobile market, said Friday that it would start selling the smartphone with WiFi function next week.

The iPhone only officially went on sale in China in October - more than two years after its US debut - and was offered in a stripped down version without WiFi.

But from Monday, Unicom will offer customers an eight-gigabyte version of the iPhone 3GS model with wireless Internet capability, Unicom said in a statement on its website.

"It will be offered in only a few provinces at first" as wider distribution will take time, a company official, who declined to be named, told AFP.

Analysts say the government had opposed phones equipped with the feature out of fear that state-owned telecoms firms would lose revenue due to the large number of free wireless hotspots in the country.

The iPhone with WiFi capability only got a network access licence in China in July.

The WiFi-equipped iPhone will sell for 4,999 yuan (738 dollars) - the same price as the model without Wi-Fi, according to the statement.

But customers may get a handset free of charge if they subscribe to a monthly package of at least 226 yuan.

China has had a thriving grey market in Apple products for years, helping plug demand for the company's products, including the iPhone.

Unicom has said it expects to offer iPhone 4 in China later this year and is in talks with Apple to sell the iPad tablet computer.

China had the world's largest number of mobile phone users at about 805 million at the end of June, official data showed.