China Telecom has confirmed that it will begin selling the Apple iPhone 4S in just over a month as its partnership with Apple is set to break rival China Unicom’s exclusive grip on the device.

News of the impending release from China’s third largest carrier is reported by China Daily (via 9to5mac), which cites a press release statement confirming that “China Telecom has already started preparatory work for the launch of the iPhone 4S.”

Rumours of China Telecom’s collaboration with Apple have been rife for some time, after the operator reportedly began training staff to sell the phone in September, however an exact launch day remains unclear at this stage. According to China Daily, the release will take place sometime between the end of February and the beginning of March.

The operator was reportedly granted a network license for the phone earlier this month, however it has lost time on Unicom which began selling the latest Apple device from launch. The first day of sales caused controversy and, though it sold out, scenes of chaos and violence at Apple’s Sanlitun store prompted sales of iPhone 4S to be called off across the country.

Confirmation of China Telecom’s impending partnership leaves China Mobile, the largest operator in the world, in the cold. The operator claims that Apple has promised to partner with it once it has finished testing its new telecom network this March, and such a move would massively increase Apple’s reach in the country.

Although a deal is yet to materialise, China Mobile already has more than 10 million iPhone users, all of whom use unlocked devices on its 2G network as the devices are incompatible with its TD-SCDMA-based 3G network.

Analysts at Morgan Stanley this week predicted that Apple could sell up to 40 million iPhones in China this year if it brings both China Telecom and China Mobile on board as partners. That’s a significant increase on the 15 million sales that it forecasts for China Unicom, although that figure is considerably greater than the 2-4 million units that the firm sees China Telecom selling.

China Unicom has added record numbers of 3G subscribers, which now stands at 36.3 million customers, although recent reports have suggested that its iPhone exclusivity may not be the contributing factor. The high level of customer acquisition is being put down to the sale of more affordable devices, that are up to 80% cheaper than the Apple smartphone.

China Mobile remains the largest network in the country with more than 645 million active members, ahead of China Unicom (195 million) and China Telecom (62 million).