China Unicom employees have reportedly told Sohu IT that negotiations have concluded with Apple and the wireless operator expects to release the iPhone 5 by the end of this year, eliminating the usual delay between launch and release in China. Sohu IT has also indicated that China Unicom deputy general manager Li Gang and other leaders were in the U.S. in August to conduct the meetings that would bring the new iPhone to the Chinese company, and faster than in the past.
Official invitations were sent from Apple on Tuesday confirming the previously rumored September 12 event, where it is expected the company will reveal the next-generation iPhone. Typically, new iPhone releases take a few months to arrive in China after the initial launch. For example, the iPhone 4S was first released last October but didn’t make it to mainland China until this January. If China Unicom does get the iPhone 5 released by the end of 2012, it would mark a much shorter gap between U.S. and Chinese launches in prior years.
Coming in second behind China Mobile, China Unicom first partnered with Apple in 2009 to sell the iPhone and experienced better than expected results. The iPhone has helped China Unicom come very close to closing the gap between itself and China Mobile in terms of 3G subscribers. China Unicom announced more than 60 million 3G customers in July and could overtake China Mobile, who announced it had 67 million 3G subscribers earlier this year, at the current growth rate
All of this could easily change though. While China Unicom announced in June that it was in talks with Apple to extend their partnership, China Mobile, the world’s largest carrier, said in May that it has also been actively talking to Apple but hasn’t yet reached a deal.