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Wednesday, March 03, 2010, 10:05 am PT (01:05 pm ET)

Apple expected to offer Wi-Fi-enabled iPhone in China soon

While the first version of the iPhone released in China came without Wi-Fi due to a temporary ban on the wireless standard, Apple is expected to remedy the situation with a new handset model in the near future.

According to an IDG News Service report from Wednesday, China Unicom is currently in talks with Apple to sell a Wi-Fi-enabled iPhone. Considering many users do not want to rely on expensive data plans for their handset, the addition of Wi-Fi is considered to be an extremely important move for Apple in the Chinese market.

"I know that in the market there is hope we will offer an iPhone with Wi-Fi," Chang Xiaobing, chairman and CEO of China Unicom, reportedly said outside an event in Beijing. "We have been holding talks with Apple in this area."

Last August, Apple and China Unicom struck a 3-year deal to sell the iPhone. The initial handset arrived without Wi-Fi because the Chinese government temporarily banned it in favor of a rival native offering. The ban, however, was relaxed in May 2009, after manufacturing of the new phone began.

The lack of Wi-Fi, along with a relatively high price and booming black market, were cited as reasons for a slow start in sales through China Unicom. While Apple sold just 5,000 iPhones at launch, sales have since picked up, with more than 200,000 handsets purchased as of early January.

Apple has big plans in China, hoping to make an impact in the nation of well over 1 billion people. Apple executives have said they are less concerned about unit sales and more about establishing the Apple brand as they attempt to break in to the market.

Apple has also been in talks with Chinese carrier China Mobile, the largest wireless provider in the world, to offer the iPhone. Last week, the company also revealed its plans to open 25 retail stores in China.