With 9M pre-orders, Galaxy S III could play hard to get

After waiting for Samsung to debut the highly anticipated Galaxy S III handset, it’s possible you could be waiting some more. The Mobile Business Briefing blog notes that Samsung already has 9 million pre-orders for the new smartphone. That figure comes from a report on Friday from the Korean Economic Times, which says that Samsung can build up to 5 million units per month. That sounds like plenty to go around, but considering that the Galaxy S III is Samsung’s flagship phone — and likely to be so for at least a year — some who want a GSIII might be waiting.

The 9 million orders are an early indication of potential success for Samsung, which recently took over the top spot in overall mobile phone sales worldwide. Initial orders for the original Galaxy S hit 1 million handsets while 3 million Galaxy II smartphones were pre-ordered. The 9 million figure is pre-orders by carriers, not consumers, so there are no guarantees: Customers will have to buy the stock from network operators and retailers for the Galaxy S III to be a success.

Given the sales momentum Samsung has gained over the past year, I’m not sure that producing 5 million handsets each month will be enough for a widespread rollout. Instead, I suspect Samsung will follow the same path it did with the Galaxy S II: A limited rollout in Europe and Asia while building more phones for the Americas. Samsung has already said the Galaxy S III will appear for sale this month in Europe and will eventually be sold through 290 operators in 145 countries. When the company followed that rollout for the prior model, Europe got its phone in May of 2011 while U.S. customers waited until Sept., Oct., and Nov. for Sprint (s S), T-Mobile, and AT&T(s t) to offer the handset.

The challenge for Samsung will be to get devices built as quickly as possible to meet demand, which already looks to be high: Three times greater than last year’s model. But with capacity to build only 5 million per month, Samsung can’t quickly scale up to meet rising demand. Apple(s aapl) has a key advantage here in that it uses multiple vendors to build iPhones. Even so, Apple too follows a staggered rollout path by country and yet there are times when customers have to backorder the device.

Folks in Europe and Asia will surely have their Galaxy S III before you or I do in the U.S. — although I’ve been known to order GSM phones from the UK — and I’m now wondering how long we’ll be waiting for that U.S. version. It could be the same as last year; in our fall season. But with such high demand and so many carriers around the world, could we be waiting even longer or face backorder situations?