China Unicom to release new smartphone line this month

The Wophone is set to rival other popular smartphones in China

China Unicom's new smartphone line, which is set to rival Apple's iPhone and Android handsets in China, will go on sale in the country later this month, according to a company spokesman.

China Unicom's Wophone is a new smartphone and software platform the company formally announced in March. The carrier, which is China's second largest mobile operator with about 180 million users, created the Wophone as the company faces competition in its app store business from Apple and vendors of Android devices.

Wophone devices will use Linux-based software developed by China Unicom and its partners, including some Chinese government agencies. Some of the handset manufacturers building Wophone devices for China Unicom include Motorola, Taiwan's HTC, and Chinese telecommunication equipment suppliers Huawei and ZTE.

The carrier plans to make an announcement about the Wophone during a company sponsored summit next week, said the China Unicom spokesman on Friday. The pricing of the handset, which will be available across China, is not yet disclosed.

China Unicom already has an edge over the country's two other mobile carriers, as it is currently the sole carrier in the country offering Apple's iPhone 4 which has been a huge hit among Chinese consumers, according to analysts.

The company does not however sell apps for the iPhone, which are sold directly by Apple, and it may be trying to increase app store revenues with apps for the Wophone.

Rivals China Mobile and China Telecom are both in talks with Apple to offer the iPhone.

China Mobile, which has 611 million customers, also has its own smartphone and software platform known as OPhone, which uses an operating system based on Google's Android. But late last year, an executive with the China Mobile Research Institute acknowledged the OPhone platform still had "a ways to go" to improve the functionality of the devices.

Mobile carriers in China are hoping to drive smartphone sales up in order to bring more customers to their third-generation (3G) cellular networks. China Unicom has 22 million 3G users, while China Mobile has 31.9 million.

In the first quarter of this year, 19.9 million smartphones were sold in China, according to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International. During the period, smartphone sales made up for nearly 30 percent of total mobile handsets sales in the country.

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Michael Kan

IDG News Service
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