China iPhone launch plans due this week

SHANGHA: China Unicom and computer giant Apple are to announce plans by the end of the week to sell a stripped down iPhone without Wi-Fi in China, the world's biggest mobile market, local media said Thursday.

The two companies have reached an agreement on major issues including prices and order volumes, Caijing magazine reported on its website, citing an unnamed source close to the negotiations.

The eight-gigabyte and 16-gigabyte iPhones could be sold as early as September, with their wireless Internet functions disabled in compliance with a Chinese ban on the device, the report said.

The government opposes phones equipped with Wi-Fi out of fear that state-owned telecoms companies will lose revenue due to the large number of free wireless hotspots in the country, according to analysts.

The iPhone is likely to be priced starting at 2,999 yuan (439 dollars) with a requirement that customers also buy 3,000 yuan worth of pre-paid calls, the report said.

China Unicom, the smaller rival of China's largest wireless operator China Mobile, started iPhone negotiations with Apple after the government issued third-generation, or 3G, mobile phone licences in January.

A Beijing-based Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on the report when contacted by AFP, while China Unicom officials were not immediately available for comment.

China is one of the last major markets where the iPhone has yet to go on sale.

But consumers here have not waited for Apple. Analysts have said the country is the world's biggest market for smuggled, "unlocked" and counterfeited iPhones.