Apple: Bull in a China Shop (Update 1)
According to a Chinese regulatory Web site , a device that looks a lot like the iPhone 5 has just been approved for a "network access" license in China. It's expected that the iPhone 5 will come to China Telecom (CHA) and China Unicom (CHU) within the next few months. China Telecom Chairman Wang Xiaochu recently said his company hoped to get the popular device by early December.
Apple confirmed Friday morning that the Wi-Fi versions of its iPad mini and fourth generation iPad will be coming to China on Dec. 7. The iPhone 5 will be available one week later, Dec. 14).
Now that Apple is able to get the iPhone 5, which has healthy demand in the United States, in the hands of Chinese citizens in time for the holiday shopping season, Wall Street estimates for iPhone sales could be conservative.
Wall Street has had a difficult time figuring out foreign iPhone sales, as the numbers are not regularly reported, as they are with domestic carriers, such as AT&T (T) , Verizon (VZ) and Sprint (S) . Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said he believes Apple will sell 45 million units this quarter, but that was based on checks and calls to U.S. Apple Stores. Apple only has seven stores in China and Hong Kong, per its latest list.
Apple has been working on iPhone 5 availability and ramping up production, as components become more readily available. Apple's Web site has shown an improvement in iPhone 5 ship dates, as back orders have improved. They've moved from three to four weeks to two to three weeks, now down to one week.
Supply and demand are starting to balance, which is inherently a good thing for Apple as CEO Tim Cook noted the response has been tremendous. "The demand for iPhone is extremely robust, we are thrilled with what we see," Cook noted on the company's fourth-quarter earnings call.
Cook went on to note that in the fourth quarter Chinese revenue was up 26% year over year to $5.7 billion. The iPhone 5 had officially not been granted network access yet, and with deals with China Telecom, China Unicom and potentially China Mobile (CHL) on the way, it's widely expected this number will be much higher in the coming months.
Signing a deal with China Mobile will be the major key for Apple in China, as China Mobile is the world's largest mobile carrier; it had more than 700 million subscribers at the end of October. Of those, 79.3 million are 3G subscribers. China Mobile is currently working on building out its own 4G network, which many presume to be the final stage of an Apple-China Mobile deal. If Apple were to capture even 20% of those 79.3 million, that's good for another 15 million iPhones.