March 24, 2009, 9:42 AM — A regional China Unicom Web site posted pictures and specs of the iPhone 3G and the Google Android-based G1 as rumors built that the mobile carrier could offer the iPhone 3G in China.
The information (in Chinese), which listed smartphones supported by the 3G network China Unicom is building, appeared only on the Web site of the company's Shanghai branch and did not say whether the products would be offered in China.
The site's changes follow media reports that a China Unicom delegation visiting Apple last week made a breakthrough in talks over offering the iPhone 3G on its network.
A spokeswoman for the company's headquarters said she did not know why the information was on the Web site. China Unicom's regional branches are fairly independent.
Animated graphics on the site show iPhones using 3G services like mobile Internet and television, though one shows the iPhone 3G making a payment through near-field communication, an ability it does not have.
China Unicom has confirmed it is in talks with Apple, but it has not been reported to be in talks with G1 manufacturer High Tech Computer (HTC).
China Unicom is expected to launch trials in May for its 3G network based on the WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) standard, which is popular outside China and supported by both the iPhone 3G and the G1.
China Mobile, China Unicom's larger rival, this year plans to offer a newer Google phone, the HTC Magic or G2, for a network based on the home grown standard known as TD-SCDMA (Time Division Synchronous CDMA).
No one from Apple or Dopod, HTC's unit in charge of China sales, was immediately available for comment.
Offering the iPhone 3G could attract high-end customers to China Unicom's 3G network in a country where fake iPhones are already common, though Google smartphones may not be as popular, said Liu Ning, an analyst at BDA, a Beijing-based research firm.
"The iPhone's charm has already been proven in many countries outside China," Liu said.
But the very fakes that have boosted the iPhone's popularity before any release in China could also harm its success. Chinese users may not follow users elsewhere in buying applications or songs on their iPhones when they can get similar pirated content for free, Liu said.
Alcatel-Lucent said Monday it will build 3G networks in over a dozen provinces for China Unicom, following a similar announcement by Ericsson last week. Alcatel-Lucent will finish the networks in six coastal Chinese cities by May, it said.
(Sumner Lemon, in Singapore, contributed to this story.)