Why a China Mobile deal is so important for Apple

Apple is preparing to sell iPhones through China Mobile for the first time, according to a report Friday afternoon from The Wall Street Journal. Apple has asked longtime manufacturing Foxconn to add China Mobile to the list of carriers slated to receive the low- to mid-range device, which Apple is expected to introduce next week alongside a new version of its traditional iPhone. As the Journal explains, the sheer size of China Mobile would make this a very big deal for Apple, which has seen its sales fall in the world’s largest mobile market by about 14 percent in the last year.

And while China’s 3G penetration rate lags far behind more mature markets, John Paczkowski of All Things D explains that 180 million of China Mobile’s 700 million subscribers use the carrier’s 3G network. If just 3 percent of those 3G users buy an iPhone — an assumption that seems conservative for a new low- to mid-range handset from Apple — that would translate to 5 million iPhone sales during the December quarter, with sales likely growing as 3G penetration increases. And that would make for a very happy holiday season in Cupertino.