By Devin Coldewey
Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) may have seen $13 billion in sales in China last year, but apparently those numbers could have been higher if they’d had a bit more faith. The iPhone sold in huge quantities in the markets served by China Unicom (NYSE:CHU), which since October of 2009 has been the only carrier over there to offer it.
Adding a second major carrier to the mix should expand the market and the sales, as it has here in the US, and China Telecom (NYSE:CHA) has stepped up to bat. It’s the third-largest carrier after China Mobile (NYSE:CHL) and China Unicom, though the situation over there is rather different owing to fact that much of the industry is state-owned. Regardless, it represents a major opportunity for everyone involved.
According to a statement by China Telecom, subscribers will be able to get a free 16 GB iPhone 4S with a two-year contract at 389 yuan per month — around $62. Opting for a three year contract brings that monthly cost down to 289 yuan (~$46). Sounds reasonable, but don’t forget that the average income is much lower, though in the urban areas covered by high-speed data services, things are more comparable.
China Telecom has nearly 40 million subscribers getting 3G data, and the intense interest shown by China Unicom’s subscribers suggests that many of those 40 million will want to make the switch — though they too are likely unsure whether they should wait for summer and the perennially forthcoming next model.
Availability is set for March 9th, just after the rumored March 7th announcement date for the iPad 3. It could be seen as either a coincidence or corroboration of those reports.