Apple appears to have tweaked its iPhone to support a Chinese security protocol for wireless networks, as companies increasingly adopt Chinese government-backed technologies to break into the country's huge market.
The move suggests Apple may soon launch a new version of the iPhone in China with wi-fi, a feature that regulations previously barred.
Chinese regulators last month approved the frequency ranges used by a new Apple mobile phone with 3G and wireless LAN support, the Web site of China's State Radio Monitoring Centre shows. The device appears to be an iPhone and uses GSM and the 3G standard WCDMA, just like iPhones currently offered in China by local carrier China Unicom.
Apple removed wi-fi on the iPhones now sold in China because regulators there began approving mobile phones with WLAN support only last year — and only if they supported a homegrown Chinese security protocol called WAPI (WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure).
The new Apple phone does support WAPI, according to the Chinese regulatory site. If an iPhone with WAPI goes on sale, Apple would be one of the highest-profile companies to offer a device using the protocol.
The new Apple phone may also support standard Wi-Fi. The Chinese security protocol is an alternative for just part of wi-fi, and devices can support both it and the technology it is meant to replace.
China has promoted the protocol, along with other homegrown technologies like the 3G standard TD-SCDMA, as part of a vision to produce more of its own technology and have it adopted by international companies.
China Unicom chairman and CEO Chang Xiaobing earlier this year said the company was in talks with Apple about offering a version of the iPhone with wi-fi.
The new Apple device, like all mobile phones, still must obtain a network access licence from regulators if its maker wants to sell it in China.
Dell is another company that has added WAPI to devices for China. Its latest device to support the protocol, a previously unknown TD-SCDMA mobile phone called the Mini 3v, was also cleared last month to use its frequency range, according to the Chinese monitoring center.
Spokeswomen at Apple and Dell did not immediately reply to requests for comment.