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Late Start May Be Tempering China Mobile’s iPhone Preorders

2013-12-31 21:45:40 

Apple’s iPhone won’t officially launch on China Mobile until January 17, but the world’s largest mobile carrier began accepting preorders for them last week. And while early estimates say initial preorder numbers are high, they’re not quite as high as you’d think given the size of China Mobile’s subscriber base.

Wedge Partners figures China Mobile accepted about 100,000 preorders for the iPhone 5s and 5c during the first two days of availability.

Interestingly, that’s fewer than rival carriers managed when the devices first launched a few months back. In September, China Unicom racked up about 120,000 preorders and China Telecom about 150,000 for the 5s and 5c both.

How is it that China Mobile, which currently provides cell service to over 763 million customers, is pulling in fewer iPhone preorders than its smaller rivals? One thing to keep in mind: It’s still early and this is only a single estimate. Another: The 5s and 5c are two months old now, and China Mobile isn’t doing much to differentiate them on its network. According to Wedge, its subsidies are similar to China Telecom’s and slightly higher than China Unicom’s.

“What’s important to remember is these phones launched in September,” Wedge analyst Brian Blair told AllThingsD. “Now here we are several months later and there’s no subsidy being offered that’s so special that the preorders are off the charts. If this had been in September when the phone launched globally, I think the numbers would be a lot higher.”

An interesting observation to be sure — but only until we can answer the bigger question: What will sales look like when the 5s and 5c officially launch on China Mobile? Currently, estimates for 2014 iPhone sales on the carrier range from 17 million at the low end to 38.7 million at the high end.