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Thursday, August 13, 2009, 05:15 am PT (08:15 am ET)

Apple sells 5 million iPhones to China Unicom

China Unicom intends to sell it first iPhones in September, and has purchased $1.46 billion worth of the devices from Apple, according to new reports.

Citing local media's claims this week, the International Business Times states that Apple sold 5 million iPhones to the company at a cost of 10 billion yuan. That means the custom WCDMA phones without Wi-Fi sold for 2,000 yuan, or $293 each.

"The price of the 8G standard iPhone is set at about 2,400 yuan and the 16G may be sold at 4,800 yuan," said Yu Zaonan, general manager of the customer development department of China Unicom in Guangzhou.

To put the 5 million total in perspective, the iPhone maker sold 5.2 million total iPhones worldwide in the last financial quarter.

Apple has reportedly changed its methods and given up dividends on the phone. In other markets, Apple is reported to take 20 percent to 30 percent of profit dividends. But in the nation of over one billion, Apple was allegedly prepared to make concessions: the Cupertino, Calif.-based company will make profits of 1,000 yuan to 1,100 yuan for each device sold.

The iPhone-maker will be forced to compete with China's black market. Smuggled iPhones are common in China, and fetch prices of 400 yuan ($59) to 1,000 yuan ($146), much lower than the asking price Apple will reportedly sell at.

As for China Unicom, the deal is expected to propel the carrier's profits to potentially equal that of rival China Mobile.

Apple's global expansion of the iPhone, particularly in China, is expected to drive the company's profits even higher. While a deal with China Unicom has not been formally announced yet, the WCDMA phone has already received regulatory approval for use for the next five years in the country.

Some reports have alleged that Apple and China Unicom have already agreed to a three-year deal, but representatives from the wireless carrier have been quick to deny those claims.