SHANGHAI - China Unicom (Hong Kong) Ltd, China's second-largest telecommunications carrier by subscribers, said more than 35 percent of its third generation (3G) smartphones sold in the first quarter were Android-based versions, indicating a declining dependence on Apple Inc's iPhone series.
The sales performance of the iPhone in China was beyond China Unicom's expectations, said Chang Xiaobing, chairman of China United Network Communications Group Co Ltd. He added that other smartphone models, some of which run on the Android platform, also performed better than expected.
The ZTE Blade V880, which was launched in June, has become China Unicom's second-most popular 3G mobile phone, after the iPhone 4. The handset has average daily sales of 4,500 units, with a one-day record of 10,000 units.
"We have seen new hope from the hot sales of the ZTE Blade," Chang said, signaling that other mobile phone models could also achieve a good market performance and bring users to China Unicom.
Chang made the remarks on Monday at the China Unicom WCDMA Terminal Industry Forum held in Shanghai. He declined to reveal specific figures about iPhone sales, citing agreements signed with Apple.
Lu Yimin, president of China Unicom, said more than 36 million WCDMA handsets were sold in China in the first five months of this year, accounting for almost 45 percent of total 3G mobile phone sales in that period.
More than 35 percent of 3G WCDMA handsets were Android-based smartphones, surging from 3 percent a year earlier, Lu said.
"China Unicom will continue launching more high-end flagship smartphone models. Meanwhile, we are about to introduce more Internet-capable smartphones priced around or below 1,000 yuan ($156)," Lu said.
"We reduced the subsidy for the iPhone 4 this year, which may allow us to provide enough money to subsidize other smartphones," said Yu Yingtao, the general manager of China Unicom's marketing and sales department.
China Unicom is still the sole carrier in China that offers Apple Inc's iPhone series with a service contract. But the company has faced increasing pressure from domestic rivals, as the other two Chinese carriers stepped up the pace of introducing iPhone services.
China Mobile Ltd, whose 3G network technology isn't supported by the iPhone, has aggressively promoted collaboration with Apple in the upcoming fourth-generation (4G) era.
Tim Cook, chief operating officer of Apple, visited China Mobile's headquarters in Beijing last month, and analysts speculated he might have discussed launching iPhone models supporting China Mobile's 4G time division long-term evolution technology.
The smallest Chinese telecom carrier - China Telecom Corp Ltd - also plans to introduce a code-division multiple access version of the iPhone in China.
Yu said more than 60 percent of Chinese iPhone buyers purchased an iPhone with a China Unicom contract, which meant China Unicom still benefited from selling iPhones.
Wang Jianzhou, chairman of China Mobile, said recently that 5.6 million iPhone users had access to the China Mobile wireless network by the end of May.
China Unicom is about to launch its first Wophone on Tuesday, targeting low- and mid-end smartphone users. Wophone runs on an operating system developed by China Unicom itself.