The iPhone effect: NTT Docomo rides Apple’s smartphone past its rivals

If you’re a carrier, there’s nothing quite like that first quarter after you land the iPhone for the first time. Ask Verizon(s vz)(s vod), Sprint(s s) and T-Mobile(s tmus), which all saw big activation gains after debuting the smartphone. Now it’s NTT Docomo’s(s dcm) turn.

According to Businessweek, Japan’s largest carrier added 279,000 new subscribers in December, marking the first time in two years that Docomo has surpassed rivals Softbank and KDDI in customer growth. A little more than two years ago, KDDI landed the iPhone 4S. Together with SoftBank, which has been selling the iPhone since 2008, KDDI has been using the Apple’s iconic smartphone to chip away at Docomo’s formidable market share.

But last fall Apple revealed new versions of the iPhone 5s and 5c that would work on Docomo’s 3G and 4G networks. Though Docomo didn’t break out how many iPhones it has sold since, a company spokesman confirmed to Bloomberg the device was the main growth driver last month.

With 62 million subscribers, Docomo was one of the last of the major global carriers to get the iPhone, but not the last. Next week the biggest carrier whale of them all China Mobile(s chl) will begin selling the 5s and 5c to its 760 million subscribers.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock user Tupungato