China’s 3G plan hints at iPhone launch?

Apple’s iPhone 3G took another step closer to China today on news the country could issue 3G licenses to local mobile phone carriers within weeks.

Speaking at a press conference, Chinese industry minister Li Yizhong confirmed the country will award three licenses, , including global 3G standards, and China’s local technology, TD-SCDMA. China Unicom will be assigned W-CDMA and China Telecom will be given CDMA-2000.

The minister also predicted improving the networks for efficient use of 3G could cost the country c.$29 billion, according to Bloomberg.

The news follows recent revelations that another key target Far East market, South Korea, has relaxed rules requiring handsets sold in the country be equipped with a locally-developed and uniquely-used mobile standard, WIPI.

Put together and given continued mutterings of chats between Apple and Chinese mobile phone manufacturers, it suggests a potential launch of the iPhone in South Korea in the first quarter, with a full-blown launch in China (including 3G) at a subsequent point.

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