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Thursday, May 29, 2008, 05:00 am PT (08:00 am ET)

Apple signs iPhone deals for Hong Kong, Macau

Hutchison Telecommunications Limited said Thursday that it has signed an agreement with Apple to bring the iPhone to Hong Kong and Macau later this year.

Similar to other international iPhone carrier announcements over the past two months, Hutchison offered no further details other than to say service for the touch-screen handset would be offered under its "3" brand.

As of last August, "3" had 15.9 million registered subscribers across its nine mobile telecommunications networks in Europe, Asia and Australia. All of 3's branded networks emphasize "mobile multimedia" and provide 3G wireless access.

The announcement is the first for China, a blistering market Apple has repeatedly promised to infiltrate by year's end.

There had been on-again-of-again rumors that suggested that Apple was also speaking to China Mobile about launching the iPhone in China, though executives for both sides (1, 2) have denied such claims.

China Mobile maintains a subscriber base in excess of 380 million — more than the population of the United States and by far the largest in the world.

Despite lacking an official distribution agreement, the carrier is reported to be providing service to some 400,000 first-generation iPhones that have been unlocked and smuggled into China for those subscribers unwilling to wait on official availability.

Further details about Apple's plans to launch iPhone in China are likely to manifest on June 9th, when company chief executive Steve Jobs is widely expected to take the wraps off a 3G iPhone and outline a roll out strategy.