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China Unicom to take on Apple, Google with OS

Wireless operator is developing a mobile OS brand known as "WoPhone," according to The Wall Street Journal.

China Unicom, one of China's three largest wireless operators, plans to introduce its own mobile operating system to compete head-to-head with Apple's iPhone and Google's Android OS in China.

The Wall Street Journal reported today that the wireless operator, which is building a third-generation wireless network that competes with China Mobile and China Telecom, is developing a new mobile OS brand known as "WoPhone."

The new operating system is based on Linux, and it's geared toward mobile handsets and tablets. Companies that plan to build devices using the new OS include China's ZTE, Huawei Technologies, and TCL. South Korea's Samsung Electronics, U.S.-based Motorola, and Taiwan's HTC are also building devices using the new OS, China Unicom's parent company, China United Network Communications Group, said in a statement today.

The company said in its statement that it hopes the new software will help the company develop 3G wireless devices more rapidly, thus getting them into the market more quickly. This is important because the Chinese 3G wireless market is just heating up with the major carriers battling for new 3G subscribers.

China Unicom has a long way to go in terms of winning new customers and trails behind larger players, such as China Mobile. As of January, China Unicom had 169.7 million mobile subscribers, including 15.5 million 3G customers. Meanwhile China Mobile had 589.3 million subscribers, including 22.6 million 3G customers.

Late last year, China Unicom launched WoStore, a mobile-application storefront that it said would support "all open smartphone platforms."

Apple's iOS and Google's Android operating systems are starting to gain market share in China. But they are not as prevalent as they are in other markets, such as the U.S. or Europe.

In China, Nokia's Symbian platform still garners the greatest market share in the smartphone market with 60.1 percent of all smartphones, according to Analysys International, a Beijing-based market research firm. Windows Mobile has the second highest market share with 13.1 percent. Google Android is third with 10.7 percent of the market. And Apple's iOS has about 5.4 percent.

Other wireless operators in China have also said they'd build their own operating systems for wireless devices. China Mobile launched its Android-based OS called "Ophone" in 2009, but the platform hasn't been a hit with customers.

A China Unicom spokesman told The Wall Street Journal that the China Unicom WoPhone platform will not be based on Android. But he declined to comment on whether that is because of Google's dispute with China's government last year. Google moved its search servers to Hong Kong from mainland China because it was worried about hacking and censorship.