Earlier this week, a subsidiary of China Mobile (NYSE: CHL ) added the iPhone 5c and 5s to its website, saying the phones are ready for reservation, but stopping short of making them available for order. This is the clearest sign China Mobile has given that Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL ) smartphones will finally be officially available on the massive Chinese telecom's network.
Shortly after the webpage launched, the wording was changed to say that reservations can be made at a later date and tells users to try again later. While this is the first time that the iPhone has been available to China Mobile's vast customer base of about 760 million subscribers, the availability of reservations was only open to China Mobile customers in the city of Suzhou. As Fortune points out, the city is one of the richest in China and has a large smartphone population.
Though this possible soft launch of the iPhone on China Mobile may not have been what Apple investors were expecting, it's still good news nonetheless.
Rumors of an Apple-China Mobile deal have swirled for years, but have picked up recently as China Mobile nears the launch date of its TD-LTE network on Dec. 18. Back in September, the iPhone was certified to run on China's 3G and 4G standards, which are compatible with China Mobile's network. The only thing investors have been waiting for is an official release.
China Mobile represents a significant opportunity for Apple in China, as the telecom is the largest carrier in the world and is one of the last huge partners for the company to sell its iPhones through. Hong Kong-based Mizuho Securities analyst Marvin Lo estimates that about about 10% of China Mobile's customer base could be initial iPhone customers, which would total over 70 million. To put that in perspective, Apple sold about 34 million iPhones in the fiscal fourth quarter of this year.
But there's lots of room for Apple to grow that number as well, considering that only 140 million of China Mobile's customers are on 3G right now, and new customers will continue to jump to the higher speed network in the future. Though it's still unclear exactly how Apple will roll out the iPhones on China Mobile, the latest reservation page through China Mobile's subsidiary is a good sign for investors. The long-awaited partnership between the two companies seems to finally have materialized, which could significantly boost iPhone sales. This past quarter Apple's revenue in Greater China was up 23.5% from the previous quarter and up 5.6% year over year. Additional iPhone sales through China Mobile will likely boost both of those numbers in current quarter.
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