It was a bit odd that China wasn't included on Apple's (AAPL 1.66%) list of iPhone 6 launch countries this year, particularly after the Middle Kingdom was on the list last year for the first time. The holdup has been obtaining all the necessary regulatory approvals; but concerns were always destined to be short-lived since it was just a matter of time.

Apple has now officially confirmed that its pair of latest and greatest iPhones will launch in China on October 17.

That's a lot of subscribers
The iPhone maker will begin taking pre-orders and reservations a week before the launch. All three major Chinese carriers are onboard at launch. Of course, China Mobile (CHL) is by far the largest, towering over rivals China Unicom (CHU) and China Telecom (CHA), as its total subscriber base flirts with 800 million.


Total subscribers (as of August 2014)

China Mobile

796 million

China Unicom

296 million

China Telecom

180 million


1.27 billion

Source: Carrier websites.

Despite subsidy cuts taking place in China, particularly from China Mobile, this is an incredible opportunity for Apple when you consider how popular phablets and large smartphones are within the country. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus has a good shot at taking a bite out of Samsung's share in the high-end.

A tale of three iPhone carriers
As far as the carriers go, China Telecom is lagging its larger rivals with getting its LTE network up and running. While China Mobile launched its LTE network in February, and China Unicom followed suit a month later, China Telecom didn't get around to it until July. China Telecom started with 16 cities, and added 24 cities to the mix last month. Still, China Telecom has lost a total of 5 million subscribers year to date because its competitors were able to launch LTE sooner.

China Mobile has quickly ramped up its 4G LTE subscriber base, which now stands at nearly 30 million, or almost 4% penetration of its total subscribers. Shortly after the iPhone launched on its network earlier this year, China Mobile Chairman Xi Guohua noted that most of the carrier's new 4G customers were iPhone buyers.

Space grey market
The delay with launching the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in China had created an active grey market, where smugglers could buy the devices in Hong Kong and bring them into mainland China to be sold at hefty profits. Grey market prices were topping $3,000 in some cases.

It's not all good news in the grey market, though. Inventory within the grey market has begun to pile up, as smugglers are now having trouble with finding buyers willing to pay such exorbitant premiums. iPhone scalpers have cut prices down to as low as "just" $1,060. With the official launch date now on the calendar, grey market prices will fall even farther.

While some may consider this data point as negative for Apple, grey market demand is not representative of mainstream demand. Grey market buyers are early adopters willing to pay massive premiums to get their hands on the device, but the average consumer is unlikely to pay up to the same extent. Just because the grey market is having trouble selling iPhone 6 units doesn't mean Apple will.