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New iPhone compatible with China Telecom gains regulatory approval

Apple has built a new version of the iPhone compatible with the third-largest wireless carrier in China, China Telecom, and the handset has already received regulatory approval.

Identified only by the model number A1387, the new iPhone, discovered by The Wall Street Journal, is compatible with CDMA-2000, the 3G network that China Telecom utilizes. The new iPhone 4S, set to debut in China on Friday, is not compatible with China Telecom's 3G network, despite the fact that the iPhone 4S is a "world phone."

The newly approved device is an indication that Apple plans to build a unique version of the iPhone to run on China Telecom's network. The company used a similar approach last year, when it built a special CDMA variant of the iPhone 4 to sell on the Verizon network in the U.S.

It's unknown whether the phone approved is a modified iPhone 4S, an iPhone 4, or even an iPhone 3GS. Apple continues to sell all three models at different price points around the world, but the iPhone 3GS is only compatible with GSM networks.

And because Apple and China Telecom haven't yet announced a deal to bring the iPhone to the carrier, the timetable for a launch is unknown. The A1387 handset has been approved by China's Radio Management agency, but other certifications, including a network license, are necessary before the handset can go on sale.

For now, the iPhone remains exclusive to China Unicom, which plans to offer heavy subsidies on the iPhone 4S when it goes on sale this Friday. Customers will be able to get the handset for free if they sign a multi-year service contract.

For Apple, the big prize remains China Mobile, which is the single largest wireless carrier in the world. The two companies are said to have been in talks for years, but the iPhone remains incompatible with the carrier's homegrown 3G network.