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Apple’s iPhone (s aapl) was a hot seller in the company’s first fiscal quarter of 2012, but that’s nothing compared to what one analyst predicts we could see in just a couple of years’ time. Morgan Stanley’s (s ms) Katy Huberty anticipates as many as 57 million additional iPhone sales for Apple in China in a new investor note (via Fortune), based on its ability to form partnerships with China’s remaining major carriers.
Huberty bases her math on a potential market of 150 million total high-end mobile subscribers in China across all three carriers, who would potentially opt for Apple’s device. Currently, 20 percent of China Unicom (s chu) (Apple’s official Chinese carrier) subscribers opt for the iPhone, so assuming similar adoption rates once iPhones make it to the other two carriers, Huberty expects at least 24 million new iPhone sales in 2013.
There’s good reason to believe Apple is working to bring the iPhone to China’s other carriers. The company’s been securing regulatory approval and licenses for a launch on China Telecom, (s cha) which would be able to run the iPhone 4S. And China Mobile (s chl) has been having discussions with Apple regarding 4G technology, which it said in September have been “positive” so far.
Should Apple manage to get the iPhone on both networks officially, Huberty thinks the iPhone could reach higher penetration levels across all carriers, possibly on par with AT&T(s t), where last quarter, the iPhone accounted for over 80 percent of new smartphone sales. According to Huberty’s most generous estimates, Apple could be selling 57 million more iPhones annually than it currently does in the Chinese market.
It might sound pretty far-fetched, but China Mobile already has at least 10 million iPhone users, despite the fact that those users are limited to 2G speeds. And Apple sold more than 37 million iPhones during its last quarter alone, compared to 68.5 million during all of its 2011 fiscal year. Similarly explosive growth in a market known to be hungry for Apple devices is hardly an outlandish proposition.