China Unicom stockpiling 5M iPhones for launch?

China's official introduction to the iPhone finally seems all but locked for later this year, but to put the size of the market in perspective, check this stat: according to "local media," China's UMTS / HSPA network operator China Unicom is said to have placed an order with the boys and girls in Cupertino for 5 million units at launch in exchange for 10 billion yuan, which is just shy of $1.46 billion. For comparison, AT&T sold about half that number in its last reported quarter, so if the 5 million figure is accurate, Unicom's definitely coming to the field to play ball. Rumors have the first batch of domestic iPhones dropping in September; the carrier's apparently pretty stoked, and understandably so -- there's even talk that they could get within striking distance of China Mobile, the world's largest carrier by subscriber count. Strangely, a Unicom spokesperson is saying that the agreement with Apple to actually sell these isn't finalized, so if they're going to wrap up the paperwork, get the cash from point A to point B, pump out a few million localized handsets, and get 'em on shelves in time for Fall, time is definitely of the essence.

[Via PMP Today and Unwired View]