In a research note, Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Brian White, he of the $777 Apple price target, noted that China Mobile added 14.24 million 3G subscribers in January, taking its total to 205.87 million, the fastest addition to its 3G subscriber base since August 2013. "As 2014 unfolds, we believe Apple's momentum with China Mobile will accelerate as the carrier rolls out its 4G TD-LTE network," he wrote. "Additionally, we expect Apple to unveil larger iPhones in 2014 (i.e., 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch versions), and we believe these devices will resonate well in China."
Apple launched the iPhone 5s and 5c on China Mobile's network starting Jan. 17, following months and months of long, drawn out negotiations between the two parties.
For the month, 3G subscribers in all of China increased by 18.14 million to 435.5 million. China Unicom (CHU) added 3.87 million subs to end the month with 126.47 subscribers, while China Telecom (CHA) ended the month with 103.14 million subscribers, adding none during the month.
As it stands now, China Mobile ended January with 771.87 million wireless subscribers, accounting for 62% of China's wireless subscribers, but the segment Apple is going after is 3G, which pays for data costs and high-speed Internet access.
China is increasingly becoming a bigger market for Apple, and given the size of the population, may eventually surpass the U.S. That's why Apple CEO Timothy D. Cook and his team have harped on how important China is to Apple. On the company's fiscal first-quarter earnings call, Apple noted 15% of its sales came from Greater China, and that 57% of ALL web browsing in China was done on iOS devices, despite Google's (GOOG) Android presence in the country.
On Apple's first-quarter earnings call, Cook also noted that the China Mobile deal helped drive the best week of activations ever for Apple in China. "I would add, as a further update, we've been selling with China Mobile now for about a week, and last week was the best week for activations we've ever had in China," he said. "So it's been an incredible start, and at this moment, we're just selling in 16 cities with China Mobile, and as Peter alluded to, this number is projected to be over 300 cities by the end of this year. And so we've got quite the ramp in front of us, and we're incredibly excited."
Judging by 3G subscriber adds at China Mobile, it looks like both Apple and China Mobile have a lot to be excited about.
--Written by Chris Ciaccia in New York
>Contact by Email.