Fans in China eager to get their hands on Apple’s iPhone through wireless operators other than China Unicom, the country’s exclusive iPhone partner, are in for a surprise as the device is really close to launching on the China Telecom network. According to the Wall Street Journal, it received a much-needed CDMA-2000 network access license from Telecommunication Equipment Certification Center, the country’s certification body. This means China Telecom could now be just weeks away from officially selling the iPhone:

An iPhone compatible with the mobile network of China’ third-largest mobile carrier, China Telecom, has received a network access license, a regulatory website shows, marking a key step toward Apple being able to sell the phone to a broader audience in China.

Last week, Apple’s iPhone got an approval from China Radio Management agency for use on China Telecom’s network. That agency certified an iPhone version with a model number A1387a that supports “WCDMA,” indicating Apple could release a phone that supports both China Unicom’s and China Telecom’s networks. Nevertheless, China Telecom, which expressed interest to offer the iPhone on numerous occasions in the past, looks like it will finally land the sought-after device.

Widening the iPhone’s distribution footprint in China, a key growth market for Apple at a time when the company is increasing sales of its mobile devices around the world, is bound to positively affect the bottom line. China is now the world’s leading smartphone market. Revenue from the country contributed with 12 percent in the more than $108 billion of Apple’s fiscal 2011 revenue, up from just $3 billion in 2009.

China Telecom is China’s third-largest carrier by subscribers with 123.4 million customers as of November 2011 —of which 33.4 million are using the 3G network. Last week’s launch of the iPhone 4S in China, two months after its United States debut, was abruptly halted as scalpers invaded Apple Stores, forcing Beijing SWAT teams to intervene and Apple to temporarily close its Sanlitun store “due to the large crowd.”

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