Apple has seemingly reached (or is at least closing in on) a key three-year deal with China Unicom which will see the iPhone launch in China.

China Unicom has secured the rights to distribute the iPhone in the populous country, following months of negotiation between Apple and incumbent mobile telcos in the area, as reported earlier this morning by the state-run official Shanghai Securities News.

Following these revelations, however, the carrier later this morning told Reuters that no formal deal had yet been reached. "Discussions are still ongoing, we have not reached any formal agreement," said Sophia Tso, a spokeswoman for China Unicom.

"We have made progress but there are still some problems to be resolved," a Unicom spokesman separately told The Age.

Despite lack of a formal agreement at this time, the substance of the deal as disclosed earlier this morning is thought to be sound. As previously reported, the three year deal sees the telecoms firm guaranteeing annual iPhone sales of between one and two million units, though local reports suggest Apple has ultimately been unsuccessful in its attempt to persuade China Unicom to offer a revenue sharing deal.

Instead, the carrier has agreed to purchase iPhones at a cost of 3,000 yuan each (approximately $439). The deal also sees the carrier guarantee Apple annual revenue of 5 billion yuan (approximately $732 million) each year.

iPhones sold in China are expected to lack WiFI support in order to stay in line with local regulations. These models of iPhone are already in production, reports claim.

China’s dominant mobile carrier, China Mobile, was also in talks with Apple to sell the iPhone in China, but Shanghai Securities News said those talks broke down.

In March, China Unicom accidentally published a dedicated iPhone page on its website. The network had originally been expected to launch the iPhone in China in May.

Interestingly, China Mobile in February 2008 apparently reported it was aware of 400,000 iPhones already in use on its network, these models were purchased in Europe and the US, unlocked and returned to China.

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