Telco reportedly partners with online giants to set up operating centres in Hangzhou, Shenzhen.

China Unicom has partnered with Alibaba and Tencent, fuelling speculation that it could soon count the online giants among its shareholders.

C114 reported last week that the operator has agreed to establish "operation centres" with Alibaba in Hangzhou, and Tencent in Shenzhen.

The news will do little to diminish the rumours that Alibaba and Tencent are among a group of Chinese tech giants preparing to invest in China Unicom.

Recent reports claimed that search giant Baidu and Alibaba rival are also among the prospective investors that are expected to plough more than €10 billion into China Unicom, as part of the government’s mixed-ownership reform programme, designed to rejuvenate struggling state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

It is understood that the majority of the funds will be raised by issuing new shares in China Unicom and selling a stake in its Shanghai-listed unit.

China Unicom said at the time it was still negotiating with potential investors, and that it has not entered into any binding agreements.

China Unicom is the country’s number two player, with 269.45 million subscribers at the end of June. Third-placed China Telecom has 229.85 million. When it comes to 4G customers though, China Unicom lags, with 138.81 million compared to China Telecom’s 152.02 million.

Both sit far behind China Mobile, which had 866.51 million customers at the end of June, 593.65 million of which were 4G customers.