Around 1 million iPhones have been illegally unlocked and brought into China to work on China Mobile's network, a telecoms analyst told China's Interfax news agency this week.
Kevin Li, an analyst with In-Stat China, says the number of unlocked iPhones potentially in use in China has more than doubled in the last six months (from around 400,000 in December 2007), a figure that does not include iPhones adapted to work on rival mobile network China Unicom.
According to official statistics, Apple had shipped 5.4 million iPhones globally by the end of first-quarter 2008, which means the 1 million illegal China Mobile devices could account for a sizable proportion of all iPhones in circulation.
Negotiations between China Mobile and Apple over an official launch of the iPhone reportedly broke down over Apple's insistence on securing a portion of China Mobile's iPhone revenue.
While Apple has abandoned this model for the launch of the new 3G version of the device, there are still no official Chinese launch plans. 'With so many iPhone owners already using China Mobile's services and driving up data traffic, China Mobile is probably in no rush to officially introduce the iPhone in China,' Li said.
Meanwhile, the 3G iPhone will debut with various operators in 22 countries on Friday.