Update – October 6, 2009: The WAPI/WiFi status of the official Unicom iPhone is still subject to debate. Numerous articles in China’s tech press continue to report that the first model iPhone (A1324) will launch around the end of October 2009 without WiFi. The second model (A1325), however, may have the WAPI/WiFi combo. More current info > HERE
September 2, 2009:
NOTE: Much of this post is based on unverified reports/rumors
99 out of 100 articles on iPhone in China are making a big deal over “no WiFi” on iPhone for China. Guess what? You’re all in for a surprise. The evidence is mounting that Apple and China Unicom are working together to have iPhone for China approved for the recently allowed WLAN authentication and privacy infrastructure (WAPI)/WiFi stack*. Earlier this week, China Unicom CEO Chang Xiaobing stated that he was hopeful that iPhone models for China would soon be authorized to include WiFi (i.e. the WAPI/WiFi stack).
No one from Apple or China Unicom will make an official announcement about WiFi on iPhone for China until the approvals have come from China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT). That could happen in a matter of weeks.
iPhone model A1324 (based on iPhone 3G) has already received its network access license from China’s MIIT. This Model was submitted for testing/approval in early Spring (before May 2009) and may have initially been approved for WAPI only. However, a letter was recently submitted to the MIIT requesting an approval for the WAPI/WiFi stack on model A1324. If this request is granted, the WiFi chip on model A1324 can apparently (just speculation) be enabled via a software update, which can be performed at the Foxconn factory prior to shipment to distributors. This is important as model A1324 may already be in production.
iPhone model A1325 (based on iPhone 3GS) remains in the approval pipeline. This model was apparently submitted to CTTL for mandatory testing in July. The MIIT only approved the WAPI/WiFi stack in May of 2009. While the timeline was tight, this two month window may have afforded Apple enough time to submit a dual WAPI/WiFi model (i.e. WiFi chip was already enabled – no software update necessary) for testing.
Bottom line … if all goes well with China’s MIIT, it’s entirely possible that BOTH iPhone models for China Unicom will be authorized for WAPI/WiFi.
You may be asking yourself “I thought WiFi was banned in China? Why was the WAPI/WiFi stack approved?” Prior to May 2009, WiFi was forbidden on mobile phones. Chinese Netizens have largely ignored this ban as WiFi base-stations cover many urban zones and grey-market (”back of the shop”) WiFi-capable handsets are everywhere. The WiFi ban on officially sanctioned phones only added rocket fuel to the flourishing grey-market. Consequently, the MIIT had to make a concession to WiFi by allowing WAPI and WiFi to be stacked together on handsets. This King Solomon’s compromise allows both sides to win. China gets their WAPI standard (and royalty payments) and consumers can get WiFi.
* WLAN authentication and privacy infrastructure (WAPI) is China’s home grown version of WiFi. It performs essentially the same functions as WiFi yet royalties belong to China. More background on WiFi/WAPI: