Update – September 18, 2009: Think October for iPhone launch
NOTE: Much of this post is based on unsubstantiated rumors and guesswork. File under speculation.
More rumblings from China’s tech press suggest that the iPhone launch date will more likely be in October or November. While marketing and distribution plans for iPhone in China may all be finalized by now, the China Telecommunication and Technology Lab (CTTL) and Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), may be dragging their feet on re-approval of iPhone model A1324. We are also watching for the initial approval for model A1325 (based on iPhone 3GS).
According to the China tech press, Model A1324 (based on iPhone 3G) was originally submitted for testing/approval circa early Spring ’09. There were some reports that model A1324 included China’s WAPI protocol but had WiFi disabled (disabled at a software level or at a hardware level? it’s not clear). This WiFi-disabled model was eventually granted a network access license (approved) in August 2009. That’s great, but there was one development that had to be addressed. In May of 2009 (after A1324 was sent in for testing/approval) China’s MIIT authorized the WAPI/WiFi stack on handsets, as long as they go through the normal testing/approval process. Now Apple/China Unicom would have to move to “Plan B.”
“Plan B” is to re-apply for a new network access license for model A1324. This second application would request approval for the WAPI/WiFi stack on model A1324. Why go through this secondary approval process knowing that it might delay an iPhone launch? Simple. WAPI/WiFi together, while not perfect, are much better than WAPI alone. Moreover, to quash thriving grey-market smuggling of WiFi-enabled iPhones from Hong Kong, Apple/China Unicom would need to have the WAPI/WiFi stack. WiFi alone will not be approved by the MIIT.
Apple may have been given a heads up in early Spring that the WAPI/WiFi combo might soon be allowed (became reality in May ’09). If they had this foreknowledge, Apple might have originally submitted model A1324 (for CTTL testing) with WiFi disabled at a software level. This would be ideal for Apple (they already had “Plan B” ready to go), as they could move into mass production of model A1324 without the worry that they might subsequently need to crack open the iPhones at the Foxconn (Hon Hai Precision factory) to replace the chipset with a dual WAPI/WiFi stack. A simple software update (enabling WiFi) at the factory, could save Apple/China Unicom many $ millions and speed up production timelines.
The second iPhone for China – model A1325 (based on iPhone 3GS) was likely submitted to CTTL in early summer (circa mid-June). This model was submitted after May ’09 and therefore most likely included a fully enabled WAPI/WiFi chipset. No word yet on the approval status of model A1325.
September 17, 2009: Shanghai Unicom employees have been known to spill the beans before they’re authorized to do so. Back in March, Shanghai Unicom splashed iPhone images across their official website in an effort to promote their new WCDMA network and advanced 3G services. China Unicom executives in Beijing no doubt had a few stern words with the Shanghai Unicom subsidiary and the premature iPhone promotion was pulled down from the website.
It seems that the Shanghai team is still anxious to share (leak) news about iPhone, and yesterday, an unnamed employee let Interfax TMT know that iPhone would be launched as early as end of the month of September (see excerpt from Interfax TMT below).
Just my opinion … but I would treat this report with a bit of skepticism. While the timing may be right (WCDMA 3G services will formally launch in 285 cities on September 28), there may be some final iPhone launch logistics and/or hardware or platform regulatory approvals (e.g. App Store, WAPI/WiFi) that could push a launch into mid October or November. That said … if iPhone launches at the end of the month or early October, it would not be a surprise.
Shanghai. September 17. INTERFAX-CHINA - China United Network Communications Corp. Ltd.’s (China Unicom) Shanghai subsidiary plans to start selling the Apple iPhone around the end of this month, a Shanghai Unicom employee told Interfax on Sept. 17.