Five million iPhones to return home

Unicom, China's second largest cell carrier, has bought 5 million iPhones and will start selling them to its customers in September.

Dong Ngo SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews
CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.
Dong Ngo
2 min read

Finally, it seems the Chinese people are about to be able to legally get their hands on the phone they have been building: the iPhone.

According to International Business Times, Unicom, China's second largest cell carrier, has paid 10 billion yuan (about $1.46 billion) to buy 5 million iPhones from Apple. The first batch of the phones will be made available to Chinese customers as early as next month. Since March, the company has been postingthe phone's images and specs at its stores.

Like almost everything nowadays, the iPhone is also from China. Dong Ngo/CNET

This will be the first time the phone is legally available in the country with the largest amount of cell phone users in the world. I find this sort of ironic, as, like most electronic devices, the iPhone is assembled in China.

The Chinese people are already acquainted with the iPhone. Prior to this, the phone has been available in China, as well as Vietnam and many other countries where Apple has no business partners, via smuggling.

What will be new to the Chinese people for sure, however, is the fact that the phone will be locked to Unicom. Yu Zaonan, general manager of the customer development department of China Unicom in Guangzhou, told International Business Times that China Unicom is hoping 5 million iPhones will translate into 5 million new customers for the company. Unicom currently is still far behind China Mobile, the largest cell carrier in the country, both in terms of subscribers and profit. Unicom hopes the iPhone will help it narrow this gap.

Locked phones are generally new to China and Asia, where people have had the freedom of getting any phone at any store and using it with any carrier. This deal between Apple and Unicom means they will get a taste of business the American way.

It's unclear which versions of the iPhone (3G or 3GS) are included in this deal and whether the phones will have Wi-Fi disabled. However, according to Yu Zaonan, the price for the 8GB iPhone will be 2,400 yuan ($350) and the 16GB version will cost twice as much. This means the company's hopeful new batch of 5 million subscribers will be those with substantially high incomes.

Anyone not so well-off might just have to resort to used and jailbroken iPhones smuggled in from other countries. These phones cost somewhere between 400 yuan ($59) and 1,000 yuan ($146), according to International Business Times.

Personally, I think it's likely many of those 5 million iPhones will be jailbroken by the locals. Now, if Apple's claim that jailbreaking the phone can turn it into a weapon of mass disruption was true, this could be unsettling news for communist China.