Apple could sell 17M iPhones via China Mobile, analyst says

And the price of the iPhone 5C, in Piper Jaffray's estimation, could benefit from the deal reportedly reached with China's largest mobile carrier.

Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Apple could add as many as 17 million iPhones to its 2014 sales tally in a reported deal with China Mobile, said Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster

The two companies have signed an agreement, the Wall Street Journal said on Wednesday, citing a "person familiar with the situation." The source told the Journal that -- after months of speculation and anticipation -- the iPhone is expected to roll out through China Mobile on December 18 to the carrier's 760 million subscribers.

If the December date is accurate, the 17 million in sales predicted by Munster would raise next year's Wall Street revenue estimates for Apple by 5 percent. That assumes China Mobile will sell the iPhone at an average non-subsidized price of $525 versus $575 for the rest of the world.

The sales forecast represents around 2 percent of China Mobile's total customer count, a number that Munster called "conservative" in an investors note released Thursday. The analyst said he believes a larger slice of devices would be sold during the first month or two, meaning January and February of 2014. But the deal could also eventually lower the non-subsidized price of the iPhone 5C, boosting its appeal.

"We also note that if Apple updates the iPhone in the fall, China Mobile would likely get both the new device in addition to the typical pricing changes to existing devices, which could put the iPhone 5C at a more attractive mid-end price (we believe the iPhone 4 has seen significant success in China given the pricing discounts applied by Apple in CY13)," Munster said.

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