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Thursday, December 10, 2009, 05:10 am PT (08:10 am ET)

Chinese iPhone sales reach 100,000, overcome Apple's slow start

Despite only selling 5,000 handsets at launch in late October, Apple's iPhone has since sold at a steady pace, moving 100,000 devices since its debut.

While the number still isn't outstanding, it's a good sign for the device's future, according to Dow Jones Newswires. For comparison, the debut of the iPhone in 2007 moved 270,000 units in the U.S., while the June 2009 debut of the iPhone 3GS sold over one million phones.

And while the six-figure sales in China suggest demand for the device has grown since its launch, some still believe it's not enough. One analyst noted that an additional 100,000 iPhone users among China Unicom's 144 million wireless subscribers will not make a huge difference for the company.

But part of China Unicom's strategy is bolstering its brand-new 3G network, which launched alongside the introduction of the iPhone. The company stated it hoped to add over 1 million 3G users every month, and it reached that goal in October.

China Unicom is also a beneficiary of China's broad gray market, where many unlocked, no-contract iPhones are believed to be purchased at prices cheaper than what the wireless carrier offers. At the moment, those users are most likely to use their handset on China Unicom, which is the only network that supports the phone's 3G capability.

In November, China Unicom executives revealed that the iPhone had sold just 5,000 units in its first four days. Analysts believe the device was held back by its lack of Wi-Fi — excluded because of a temporary ban on the technology by the Chinese government — and the availability of devices on the gray market. Still, officials with China's second-largest wireless provider have high hopes for the iPhone, predicting that 10 percent of their 3G customers will use Apple's smartphone in the next three years.

On Monday it was revealed that Apple sold 60,000 iPhones in the device's launch in South Korea. Compared to the 400,000 total smartphones sold in the country in the third quarter of 2009, Apple's debut would represent 15 percent of that market.