Unicom offered no comment on price for the device

The iPhone is certainly one of the hottest smartphones going today. The device is available in most parts of the world either officially or through importers and the grey market. One country that has not had an official iPhone offering so far is China. Ironically, China has more mobile phone subscribers than the entire population of the U.S. making it a huge market for the iPhone.

China Unicom announced today that it has signed a deal with Apple that will give it a three-year exclusive on the iPhone. DailyTech previously reported that the Chinese iPhone would lack Wi-Fi and that caveat has proven to be true. The big problem with that for China Unicom is that the iPhone is already available through importers in China with Wi-Fi enabled.

The iPhones will officially go on sale in China in Q4 2009 and Unicom says that it will not share revenue with Apple. This is a big change for Apple; the other exclusive partners share revenue with Apple as part of their exclusive deal.

Unicom will buy the handsets from Apple at wholesale prices and resell them to subscribers with some sort of subsidy. Unicom officials didn’t elaborate on what the sales price for the devices will be or what the subsidy will amount to. Previous rumors pegged the price Unicom was paying at $439 per iPhone, but that is unconfirmed.

Chinese research firm BDA China Ltd estimates that there may be 1.5 million iPhones already in use in China so the official handset will face stiff competition from itself and other devices set to hit the market this year. The other devices include new handsets from HTC and others.

Unicom has licensed 3G spectrum and will begin rolling out the 3G networks in China in September. Grey market iPhones sell for $680 in China reports the Wall Street Journal, so pricing may be an issue for consumers looking to get an official iPhone in Q4.

"This is about the Internet.  Everything on the Internet is encrypted. This is not a BlackBerry-only issue. If they can't deal with the Internet, they should shut it off." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis
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