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Report: China Unicom preps iPhones with Wi-Fi

After a thaw in some regulatory issues, China Unicom is planning to introduce iPhones with Wi-Fi into the Chinese market.

China Unicom is working with Apple to finally launch a Wi-Fi version of the iPhone, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The iPhone hit China in October, but sans Wi-Fi. Chinese regulations had prohibited the sale of any Wi-Fi device that does not use the country's own wireless standard known as WAPI (Wired Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure). As a result, Apple was forced to introduce the iPhone with Wi-Fi disabled in order to enter the Chinese market without delays.

Due to a relaxation of rules, devices sold in China can offer Wi-Fi as long as they also include WAPI.

Speaking with reporters at the National People's Congress, Unicom Chairman Chang Xiaobing said Saturday that the change in regulations has opened the door for a new iPhone with built-in Wi-Fi, the Journal reported.

He gave no specific launch date for the new phone but did say the company would try to compensate users of current iPhones that lack Wi-Fi, possibly by giving them greater access to the 3G network.

iPhone sales in China have been brisk but likely restrained by a couple of factors. The phone sells for $730 to $1,020, according to the Journal, much higher than gray market smartphones and iPhone knockoffs. And without Wi-Fi, Chinese users have been forced to tap into expensive 3G connections. Unicom's chairman acknowledged the high cost of iPhone ownership in his country and said his company will try to lower the cost if possible.

China Unicom is currently the only carrier in that country to offer the iPhone, although Apple has conducted on-again, off-again talks with China Mobile.

China Unicom also indicated it will be selling Android-based smartphones. The launch of Android phones in China was postponed earlier this year due to strained relations between Google and the Chinese government.