BEIJING - China United Network Communications Group Co Ltd (China Unicom) has for the first time introduced two BlackBerry smartphone models running on its third-generation (3G) mobile network, in the hope of being less dependent on the wildly popular Apple Inc iPhones.
The company, China's second-largest telecom carrier by subscribers, said on Wednesday it launched the BlackBerry Torch 9800 and BlackBerry Curve 9300 with service contracts to corporate clients.
The company began offering the phones in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong on Wednesday. Nationwide sales are scheduled to begin on Sept 1.
"China Unicom wants to diversify its mobile terminal portfolios and enrich services for 3G users," Jiang Zhengxin, deputy president of China Unicom Corporation said at a news briefing in Beijing.
The company, which is the only operator in China that offers Apple's iPhone with a service contract, has been aggressive in luring more 3G users in China, the world's largest mobile phone market.
The iPhone craze has greatly helped the company to attract 3G users, as Jiang revealed during the news briefing that the number of 3G users of China Unicom surpassed 2 million by the end of April.
However, China Unicom is unlikely to ride on the iPhone craze alone in the near future, as the two major Chinese telecom operators - China Mobile and China Telecom - have made breakthroughs in cooperating with Apple.
News had circulated that China Telecom, the smallest carrier in China, has completed negotiations with Apple Inc and is about to launch iPhones that run on the CDMA (code division multiple access) network next month in China.
Meanwhile, China Mobile had disclosed that Apple is interested in developing iPhones that support its next generation TD-LTE (time division long-term evolution) mobile telecommunication technology. But there was no timeframe scheduled for the handset launch.
"Competing for popular mobile phone models to adopt certain mobile telecom technology has been a strategy for Chinese telecom carriers, because good terminals will lure a large number of followers," said Lu Libin, an analyst with Beijing-based research firm Analysys International.
In addition to Apple's iPhone, other products such as BlackBerry from Research In Motion Ltd, Droid Incredible from HTC Corp and Milestone by Motorola Mobility Inc have all employed eye-catching handsets to Chinese carriers to attract users.
Research In Motion entered China in 2006, and has cooperated with China Unicom and China Telecom to launch 3G smartphones.
"The good news is that the TD-SCDMA 3G network version of BlackBerry is coming soon," Gregory Shea, president of RIM in China, told China Daily.
Shea said he is satisfied with BlackBerry's growth rate in China and revealed the company's first tablet computer Playbook is expected to launch in China in the second half of this year.
By the end of March, the number of 3G users in China reached 61.9 million, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. China Mobile led the list with 26.99 million 3G users.