Apple’s iPhone Drives 3G Subscriber Increase at China Mobile

Source: Twitter.com/tim_cook

China Mobile (NYSE:CHL) appears to already be benefiting from its partnership with Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL). According to a recent research note from Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Brian White, China Mobile added 14.24 million 3G subscribers in January, a 7.4 percent increase in its 3G subscriber base. In contrast, rival carrier China Unicom (NYSE:CHU) only saw a 3.2 percent subscriber increase, while China Telecom (NYSE:CHA) saw no month-over-month growth.

Thanks to its recent subscriber additions, China Mobile now has a total of 205.87 million 3G subscribers, said White, per Apple Insider. According to China Mobile’s website, the world’s largest carrier has more than 771 million total subscribers on its network. White says this is the fastest 3G subscriber growth rate the carrier has seen since August and gives China Mobile a 47 percent share of the country’s total 3G subscriber base.

Although Apple’s iPhone 5C and iPhone 5S officially launched on China Mobile’s network on January 17, it has been estimated that millions of unlocked iPhones were already being used on the carrier’s 2G and 2.5G network. While White’s note did not specify how many iPhone users were among the new 3G subscribers, it is likely that some of these subscribers were unlocked iPhone users that wanted to upgrade to a 3G compatible device. The analyst also noted that this subscriber boost will likely increase as China Mobile continues to expand its nascent 4G network.

“As 2014 unfolds, we believe Apple’s momentum with China Mobile will accelerate as the carrier rolls out its 4G TD-LTE network,” wrote White in his research note seen by Apple Insider. “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.”

As noted by Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer during the company’s fiscal first-quarter earnings call, “China Mobile’s 4G service is only available in 16 cities today, and they plan to complete the rollout of more than 500,000 4G base stations, which will cover more than 340 cities by year-end.” Oppenheimer also said that even before the China Mobile deal, iOS devices already accounted for 57 percent of all mobile Web browsing in China.

CEO Tim Cook also noted the importance of the iPhone maker’s partnership with China Mobile during the earnings call. “I think if you just back up and look at it from a common sense point of view, China Mobile has more subscribers than anyone in the world,” he said. “They have three quarters of a billion, and so I do see it as a watershed moment for Apple, and have a very strong belief in the ability of those two companies to do great things together.” Based on China Mobile’s recent surge in 3G subscribers, it appears Cook’s belief is correct.

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