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Apple turning to China Unicom?

After well over a year of iPhone flirtation with China Mobile, Apple may have decided to cut off talks with the world's largest carrier and start negotiating with China Unicom.

Apple might bring the iPhone to China with China Unicom, rather than China Mobile. CNET Networks

The iPhone's slow boat to China might be moving into the fast lane.

Chinese news outlets, as spotted by Apple 2.0, are reporting that Apple and China Unicom, the country's second largest wireless carrier, are in talks to officially bring the iPhone to China and could do so as early as May 17, when China Unicom launches a 3G network.

The talks come after an apparent breakdown in negotiations between Apple and China Mobile, China's largest carrier, over control of the App Store: believe it or not, Apple would like to retain sole control over the App Store.

Partnering with China Unicom would give Apple another advantage in that it wouldn't have to modify the iPhone's current wireless chip. China Mobile is rolling out a 3G network based on a proprietary homegrown wireless standard, while China Unicom and China Telecom--players two and three in that huge market--are using the same WCDMA technology that other GSM-based carriers like AT&T are using.

Still, China Unicom, with 130 million customers, is a definite second fiddle to China Mobile, which has 415 million customers. Apple can perhaps take a degree of solace in the fact that there are an awful lot of Chinese wireless users that are already familiar with the iPhone through various unlocking schemes, meaning it might not have to do as much advance marketing.