HONG KONG: The state-owned telecoms company China Unicom has clinched a deal with Apple to launch the popular iPhone into the world's largest mobile phone market.

The phones are expected to go on sale on the Chinese mainland later this year at around $439 (£269; €305) apiece.

Although many bootleg iPhones are already in use in the country, the deal marks the first official support for the long-awaited smartphone product.

China has more than 680 million mobile phone accounts but is one of the only remaining markets in the world where the iPhone is not legally on sale.

Apple said the two partners had agreed a "multi-year deal" and expected the launch to be in the fourth quarter of 2009, but gave no financial details.
China Unicom, which had 140 million mobile subscribers by the end of June, opened negotiations with Apple after the Chinese government issued 3G mobile phone licences in January.

"We believe China Unicom's high-speed mobile broadband network, coupled with [the iPhone] will create new communication and different experiences for customers in China," said Unicom chairman Chang Xiaobin.

Apple sold 5.2 million iPhones between April and June this year, seven times more than the previous year.

The sales helped to push quarterly profits at the US technology giant to $1.2bn.

Data sourced from BBC; additional content by WARC staff