As Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s next earnings report approaches, Wall Street’s excitement keeps burning hotter and hotter. In fact, it’s worth questioning whether Wall Street is going to be expecting too much out of Apple when it reports this afternoon. Sanford Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi and his team believe the company will actually beat expectations for iPhone shipments.

Apple

Apple expected to ship 55 million iPhones…at least

On average, analysts believe Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) will report shipments of 55 million iPhones during the December quarter. However, Sacconaghi estimates that the number could go as high as 57.5 million. The analyst believes Wall Street is actually underestimating Apple’s iPhones because it isn’t factoring in benefits from new carrier additions and also a new iPhone launch in China which comes at the same time as the U.S. launch.

If you remember, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) struck a deal with NTT DoCoMo, Japan’s largest mobile carrier, during the quarter. The company also launched the two new iPhones on China Unicom and China Telecom immediately rather than making the two Chinese carriers wait a few weeks or even months. A beat on iPhone shipments might not be out of the question because Apple did report a record iPhone launch this past fall. If the early demand for the new iPhone 5S continued into the holiday quarter, he could be right.

If Sacconaghi is correct in his estimates, this would mark a 70% increase year over year in the number of iPhone shipments Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) reported during the fourth quarter, according to CNET. And looking ahead to this year, the addition of China Mobile could boost Apple’s iPhone sales by another 11.6 million in the 2014 fiscal year. He believes the Chinese carrier could add as many as 15 million more iPhone units to Apple’s 2015 fiscal year as well.

Expectations for Apple running high

Of course the Bernstein analyst isn’t the only one with lofty expectations for Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL). Credit Suisse analyst Kulbinder Garcha also expects the company to report a sales beat—of nearly $2 billion in Garcha’s case.

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, who has been a long-time Apple bull, also expects good things from the company when it reports tonight. He’s expecting to see guidance of between $44 billion and $47 billion. Interestingly enough, Thomson Financial estimates suggest Wall Street expects Apple’s March results to be sales of $47.05 billion, which actually puts Munster on the low side. However, if the company’s guidance does come out ahead of those numbers, it would be another positive surprise for investors.