China Unicom will launch the iPhone 3G S today, marking the first time the handset is officially available in the world's largest telecom market.
But Unicom may have an uphill battle ahead of it, considering the high asking cost of the standalone handset - 6,999 yuan (€690) without a contract for the 32GB model - the delayed launch and the widespread availability of unlocked and counterfeit iPhones.
China Market Research Group head Shaun Rein told AFP the iPhone is already widespread in China.
“When the iPhone came out in the US in 2007, there was a huge demand here, and a lot of people were going to the US, buying handsets, cracking the code and selling it here,” Rein said. “Almost everyone who wants an iPhone already has one.”
Rein estimated that 2 million of China's roughly 710 million mobile subscribers already use some form of iPhone.
But Unicom is also offering the handset through eight contract plans starting from 126 yuan per month. The company said it would subsidize the phone by up to 4,253 yuan for those who signed up to a contract, but did not provide specific details.
With 141.9 million mobile users, the operator has a large potential customer base to work from.
The phone will be formally launched at a ceremony in Beijing this evening.