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Virgin Mobile is in talks with several Chinese mobile operators about starting operations in the country.

Richard Branson's mobile arm works with carriers as a Virtual Mobile Operator - it provides the marketing magic while someone else deals with the nuts and bolts. In the UK it uses T-mobile's network.

Kong Branson told reporters in Hong Kong that had put aside £154m ($300m) to spend on Chinese expansion. The two most likely candidates for a 50-50 joint venture would be China Telecom , the dominant player, or China Unicom. Asia Times plumped for China Telecom as the likely partner, but offers little evidence; the story is here.

Branson told The Guardian: "We are in the early stages of discussion - I suspect the whole thing would take 12 to 18 months before we'll launch. The Chinese market is obviously the fastest growing market in the world. Virgin will be foolish if it is not a player in the market." China has 300m mobile phone subscribers.

This timescale would fit with the expected announcement of 3G licenses by the Chinese government. The bearded entrepreneur said Virgin "would certainly be interested in 3G".

Virgin is launching a joint venture with Bell Canada, in Canada, and is also looking at Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa, according to The Scotsman. ®

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