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China Telecom to launch iPhone 5 within weeks

China's third cellco more bullish about new Apple handset than rival Unicom, while China Mobile waits for TD-LTE version


Published: 12 November, 2012

READ MORE: China | iPhone

Apple will get an important boost to iPhone 5 sales when China Telecom launches the smartphone in late November or early December. However, it is still waiting for a green light from its larger partner, China Unicom, while any deal with the leader, China Mobile, will have to wait for the much rumored, but elusive, TD-LTE model.

China Telecom's chairman Wang Ziaochu confirmed the launch timetable on Friday, following government approval for the iPhone 5. The lengthy approval process was a challenge for Apple, since delays in availability of its new product provide windows into which Samsung, the market leader in Chinese smartphones, can leap.

The Chinese launch has lagged that in other Asian countries such as Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong. Apple has said it expects the iPhone 5 to be available in 100 countries by the end of the year. As well as bureaucracy, a staggered roll-out in China may also be down to Apple's recent shortages, which have created waiting lists even in the US. Its manufacturing partner Foxconn admitted last week that it was struggling to meet demand, given that the latest iPhone is a complex gadget to make and Apple sets high quality standards.

China Unicom's chairman Chang Xiaobing did not offer a precise launch date for the iPhone 5. He told reporters: "We hope to offer it this year."

And like many carriers, Unicom may see a new Apple device as a mixed blessing. In a research note last week, quoted by CNet, Barclays analyst Anand Ramachandran wrote: "Many of the first or second generation iPhone adopters with a contract on the Unicom network will now be reaching the end of their contract periods and looking to renew contracts when the iPhone 5 becomes available - these subscribers generate additional subsidy costs but only replace revenues at Unicom rather than drive additional revenues." That could drive Telecom to push the new product harder, since it has more new market share to address, but that could, in turn, hit its quarterly results with higher subsidy costs.

China Unicom was the first carrier to offer the iPhone in China while its smaller rival went live in March when a CDMA version became available. No Chinese carrier yet has a 4G market to take advantage of the iPhone 5's LTE capabilities, though Apple has been much reported to be negotiating with China Mobile over a device for its TD-LTE network, which would lead to its first deal with the world's largest cellco by subscriber numbers. Unicom and Telecom are testing LTE equipment but have little visibility on when the government will open up spectrum to them, or even which band they will use. China Telecom has experimental 4G services in some cities like Shanghai and Nanjing and in Guangdong province.

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