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]