China Unicom finally bringing iPhone to world's most populous country?

Is it really happening? Is the world's most thickly settled nation finally getting the iPhone in earnest? If a bold (albeit woolly) report from China's own national news agency is to be believed, China Unicom has just locked down a deal that'll grant it exclusive rights to sell Apple's heralded smartphone in mainland China for three whole years. Unfortunately, most of the nitty-gritty details are absent, but we are led to believe that this will be the first-ever iPhone sold with any branding at all outside of logos splashed on at Cupertino. The "Wo" icon you see just below the speaker signifies that this here device is ready to rock on the carrier's 3G network, though we still can't say with any amount of certainty if said image is fully legitimate. We're also waiting to hear whether it'll be the iPhone 3G or 3GS (or both) that's sold, and we're particular curious as to whether or not these handsets will include WiFi modules.

In related news, it does sound as if China Unicom bent over backwards a bit to make this all come together, with the article stating that it signed on to move between one and two million units per year regardless of how many consumers actually show up to buy one. If you'll recall, an eerily similar agreement has Russian operators in a world of financial hurt, but we get the feeling the reception in China will be quite a bit warmer. At any rate, it's noted that Unicom will be snapping up the devices from Apple at a cost of around 3,000 Chinese yuan apiece ($439), with end users being asked to pay an undisclosed lesser amount on contract. If all goes well, the units could hit Chinese shops as early as September, though only time will tell how everything shakes out. Oh, and considering that Apple can hardly keep up with iPhone 3GS demand as it is, we suspect it'll want to wait a few months anyway before stressing its supply channels further.

Update: A China Unicom spokeswoman has now been quoted as saying that "we have made progress but there are still some problems to be resolved." Really? Another round of this?