China Unicom is pinning its hopes on the mainland launch of Apple's iPhone4 and the iPad to reverse its fortunes this year after reporting a 62 per cent slump in first-half profit owing to the high cost of introducing its 3G business. Lu Yimin, executive director and president of China's second-largest mobile operator, said although he had no timetable for the launch of the much-sought-after gadgets, it would definitely be within this year and 'the sooner the better'. China Unicom is the only telecom operator among the mainland's big three mobile carriers offering Apple's iPhone. 'The impetus of iPhone on our business is obvious,' said Lu. However, the cost of competing with China Mobile and China Telecom in the cut-throat 3G market has taken its toll, with first-half profit dropping to 2.53 billion yuan (HK$2.88 billion) from 6.62 billion yuan a year earlier. Revenue climbed 7.6 per cent to 82.11 billion yuan. China Unicom said it had budgeted for three billion to five billion yuan on subsidies for 3G users this year and had spent 1.17 billion yuan in the first half. During that period it had added 4.81 million subscribers, taking the total to 7.56 million. China Mobile has 10.46 million 3G subscribers and China Telecom 7.18 million. Lu said China Unicom would launch 10 new smart phones before the end of the year to attract customers. Chairman and chief executive Chang Xiaobing said: 'We will accelerate the construction of the 3G premium network while keeping the 2G business stable.' Competition in the mainland telecommunications market has intensified since January last year when Beijing granted 3G licences to the three main operators. Today they all offer subsidies for handsets to attract customers in the hope of boosting average revenue per user. 'I won't recommend buying or holding shares of China Unicom,' said Tong Diyi, a private equity investor based in Beijing. 'They spent huge amounts of money on the construction of 3G networks and subsidies for 3G users and have seen no return so far.' China Unicom shares fell 2 per cent yesterday to HK$10.34, while the benchmark Hang Seng index remained flat.