The Republic of China is finally to officially get Apple's iPhone later this year, although many unofficial units are already reported to be widely in use in the region.

The mobile operator China Unicom has signed a much-rumoured deal with Apple to launch the iPhone into what's apparently the world's largest mobile phone market, the BBC reports.

State-owned Unicom will offer the iPhone for 3 years to China's potential market of over 600 million mobile phone accounts.

"We believe China Unicom's high-speed mobile broadband network, coupled with [the iPhone] will create new communication and different experiences for customers in China", said Unicom chairman Chang Xiaobin.

The phone is due to go on sale in the fourth quarter of 2009, with pricing and plans to be announced locally nearer the time.