Apple lands deal to sell iPhone in China

China Unicom plans to start selling two versions of the iPhone into the massive market in the fourth quarter--but with Wi-Fi disabled.

The iPhone now has an official ticket to China.

Mobile phone operator China Unicom plans to start selling two versions of the iPhone in China in the fourth quarter of 2009, under a three-year deal, an Apple representative confirmed Friday morning.

China Unicom didn't say what it will charge for the iPhones or what the service plan will include, but it does plan to keep the price modest by offering subsidies to customers, according to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the deal earlier Friday. The agreement does not include revenue sharing, the newspaper said.

In accordance with Chinese regulations, the iPhones will be sold with their Wi-Fi function disabled, the Journal reported.

The news was, by and large, expected. Reports of an impending deal had been circulating for some time now. And at least as far back as March, China Unicom--the country's second largest mobile operator--had been posting iPhone photos and specifications on its Web site. Apple had also been in on-again, off-again talks with the country's largest carrier, China Mobile.

Apple's iPhone has been in widespread use in China for a number of years as people brought the gadget into the country from markets where it was available.

China Unicom also said Friday that its 3G network will launch commercially at the end of September, according to the Journal.

UBS analyst Maynard Um said in a research note Friday that the "formal announcement with specific timing of a launch may be viewed as a modest positive," although it's "still difficult to gauge the level of potential demand." For Apple, Um said, international expansion and partnerships with new wireless operators are central to the company maintaining its iPhone and earnings momentum.

CNET News contributor Jim Dalrymple provided reporting for this story.

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