China Telecom, the smallest of the country's three telecom carriers, has started taking pre-orders for the iPhone 5, a member of the customer service staff at the company's Beijing branch confirmed Sunday, offering the latest indication of the upcoming availability of the iPhone in the mainland market.
"We'll contact you immediately if the iPhone 5 hits our shelves," said the customer service employee on China Telecom's hotline when reached by the Global Times Sunday.
"China Telecom's version (of the iPhone 5) will go on sale sometime in December," he said.
However, a member of the PR staff at China Telecom told the Global Times Sunday that the exact shipping date for the iPhone 5 remains uncertain.
Earlier this month, Suning, the country's largest home appliance retailer, also said it had begun taking pre-orders for Apple's latest handset model.
China Unicom, which first partnered with Apple to introduce the iPhone 4 in 2009, has yet to begin pre-orders for the new iPhone.
"We have no information yet as to the arrival (of China Unicom's version of the iPhone 5)," Wen Baoqiu, spokesman for China Unicom, told the Global Times Sunday.
Apple CEO Tim Cook disclosed at the company's fourth-quarter earnings call in late October that the iPhone 5's mainland launch "will happen in December," and analysts believe it could give a boost to the country's two smaller telecom companies in their competition with China Mobile.
"Both China Unicom and China Telecom have been benefiting from selling the iPhone products, as it has boosted their 3G services, and the iPhone serves to generate more user data traffic compared to other smartphones," Li Yanyan, an analyst at market research firm Analysys International, told the Global Times Sunday.
More than 50 percent of China Unicom's 3G data traffic has been driven by its subscribers using an iPhone, according to Li, who noted the upcoming iPhone 5 launch will continue to be a boon for Apple's two partners in the mainland market, especially China Telecom, which appears to be moving faster than China Unicom in introducing the new gadget for the mainland market.
China Telecom began selling the iPhone 4S in March, becoming the second carrier in the market to offer iPhones.