China Unicom rumored to get next-gen iPhone by year’s end

Since previous reports seemingly nailed the next-gen iPhone event date, it’s safe to assume the predicted launch date is also accurate. Apple’s next smartphone is expected to go on sale in the US on September 21st. When the handset will launch elsewhere, however, is still unknown.

Last year, the iPhone 4S launched Stateside in October, but it didn’t hit some major markets like China until a good three months later. But according to a new report, that won’t be the case this year. Industry insiders say that China Unicom will have the handset by December…

TheNextWeb passes along a report from Sohu IT, who spoke with employees of China’s second largest carrier regarding the next-generation iPhone. And they believe the handset will debut in the country before the year is over. Here’s an excerpt from the article [translated]:

“It is reported that China Unicom United States negotiating team led by Li Gang, deputy general manager of China Unicom, Unicom’s marketing general manager Zhou Alliance and China Unicom Huasheng general manager quarter Wei and other relevant personnel to travel together. Unicom “smart city” strategy conference held yesterday, Zhou Alliance unveiled to attend, but did not directly respond to Sohu IT issues such as the introduction of iPhone 5. However, Unicom internal staff revealed that the “Gang sum week total just returned Unicom introduced iPhone 5 does not have any suspense, the time should be in the year.”

A pre-holiday next-gen iPhone launch in China would be a big deal for Apple, as it continues to struggle to gain smartphone marketshare in the country. Typically, device launches are delayed in China due to strict government approval processes, which usually dampens the hype.

If true, the news would also greatly benefit China Unicom, China’s second largest carrier, and the tenth largest in the world by subscriber base. The operator has been an iPhone partner since 2009, and has attributed much of its growth over the past three years to Apple’s handset.

The jury is still out on China’s big fish though — China Mobile. Analysts and investors alike will be watching closely this fall to see if Apple has finally struck a deal with the world’s largest carrier. The partnership would give it access to some 680 million mobile subscribers.

Hopefully, we’ll get some of these questions answered at Apple’s iPhone event next week.