China Unicom, the only mobile network operator selling iPhones in China, is in talks with Apple to sell a version of the popular smartphone with Wi-Fi, something the companies could not do previously due to government regulations.
Wi-Fi is seen as important to the success of the iPhone in China because many people want to use the devices to surf the Web, but don’t want to pay higher data rates for using the mobile network. China so far has required mobile phones with Wi-Fi also to support WAPI (WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure), a homegrown security protocol. Versions of the iPhone on sale now in China do not offer Wi-Fi.
“I know that in the market there is hope we will offer an iPhone with Wi-Fi,” said Chang Xiaobing, chairman and CEO of China Unicom, outside an event in Beijing. “We have been holding talks with Apple in this area.”
Chang did not give a timetable for any release. When asked if the phone will come with WAPI, he said the phone will satisfy demands in the Chinese market.
Sales of the iPhone in China have disappointed some industry watchers, who blame slow uptake of the smartphones on a variety of reasons. One of the main reasons is that users who want one can buy an iPhone for a lower price, and with Wi-Fi, in neighboring Hong Kong. The 32GB iPhone 3GS with no service contract costs 6,999 yuan (US$1,024) in China, compared to about US$800 in Hong Kong.
Other people seek out iPhones at electronics bazaars throughout China, where entrepreneurs that have carried them into the country sell them on the gray market.