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Friday, October 28, 2011, 03:08 pm PT (06:08 pm ET)

China Telecom may not carry iPhone until mid-2012

China Telecom may not see the iPhone on its network until mid-2012, with one analyst pegging the launch to take place in February or March at the earliest.

Contrary to previous reports saying China's third-largest mobile carrier would begin selling the device in late October, UBS AG said on Thursday that China Telecom is likely to delay its introduction of the iPhone, a deal that is seen by some as a $9 billion revenue opportunity for Apple. Currently China Unicom is the only Chinese carrier licensed to sell Apple's device in China.

Citing "channel checks with value chain suppliers" analyst Wang Jinjin writes that China Telecom would launch Apple's handset in February or March of 2012 at the earliest, noting a possibility that the introduction could come as late as mid-year.

AppleInsider reported in 2010 that Apple was possibly in talks with the carrier to sell a CDMA version of the popular smartphone on its network, with China Telecom Chairman Wang Xiaochu saying in May of 2011 that the two companies had reached an agreement.

The beijing-based telecom has yet to officially announce that it would offer the iPhone, however the company was recently reported to be planning a $235 million ad campaign surrounding the handset's launch.

Wang Jinjin sees the CDMA iPhone as a chance for the company to penetrate into the high-end segment of mobile users, noting that the device is pivotal in gaining momentum within the growing Chinese market.

The analyst notes that China Telecom is benefitting from the current push towards 3G technology in China, seeing a larger mobile user base by bundling its broadband and CDMA services. He goes on to say that the carrier needs to concentrate on its standalone mobile business by offering a better handset portfolio and more support from third party distribution channels.

Recently, however, unlicensed Chinese carriers are seeing more iPhones being used on their networks without service contracts, especially with the release of the GSM/CDMA-capable iPhone 4S.

China Telecom is the world's largest fixed-line telecom and broadband provider, and became China's third-largest mobile provider after taking over mobile leader China Unicom's nationwide CDMA business.