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Friday, July 10, 2009, 08:30 pm PT (11:30 pm ET)

Apple nears wireless license for iPhone in China

Apple may have finally cleared a hurdle in bringing the iPhone to China as it has reportedly applied for a Network Access License in the Asian country, putting a release just a few months away — albeit without Wi-Fi.

Although he doesn't say how he obtained the information, Wedge Partners analyst Matt Mathison claims that the application was filed today but doesn't make any mention of onboard Wi-Fi. Rumors have repeatedly hinted that Apple may be forced to remove Wi-Fi to appease the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which would prefer that iPhone owners use local networks.

Apple has supposedly been "hellbent" on shipping the iPhone to China with Wi-Fi but appears to have relented in order to get the phone into the populous nation.

If the process moves along as usual, this special iPhone would take between four to six months to receive the green light and go on sale. This would put a launch no later than January, and Mathison is confident the device would arrive before the Chinese New Year, which in 2010 will start in mid-February. He views the licensing as partly a negotiation tactic that would help bring Apple closer to a deal with China Unicom, the carrier recently pegged as the most likely candidate for an iPhone due to its inherent compatibility with the iPhone's existing 3G standards.

While it's rare to have an estimate that narrows the release window for an iPhone in China, whether or not this latest prediction is accurate is still debatable. Local carriers have been in talks with Apple since at least late 2007, and one-time favorite China Mobile has often tried making multiple special requests that have likely stalled hopes for a quick agreement, such as demanding that the American company either use the government-backed TD-SCDMA standard for 3G or cede control of the App Store.

Apple has so far only said that it wants to have the iPhone in China within the next year and has been silent on its progress.