Apple Inc. (AAPL) And China Mobile: Perfect Match Or No Big Deal?

The long-awaited deal between Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) and China Mobile is finally here (for real). The world’s largest carrier will begin supporting the iPhone on Jan. 17. Preorders start on Christmas day. So is this deal truly an incredible thing for Apple, or will it be nothing more than a blip on the company’s radar? It depends on who you ask.

Apple Inc. (AAPL) And China Mobile: Perfect Match Or No Big Deal?

Will China Mobiles flock to Apple’s iPhone?

Kaylene Hong of The Next Web presents the bearish side of the argument. She notes that many die-hard fans of Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s products who are on China Mobile’s network are already using iPhones on the carrier’s low-tech 2G network. As many as 42 million China Mobile subscribers apparently already have an iPhone. As a result, the deal between Apple and China Mobile doesn’t necessarily mean that millions of the carrier’s subscribers will run out and buy an iPhone. It just means that those who already have an iPhone will be able to use it on a network that’s faster than 2G.

She also notes that in the Chinese economy, the iPhone is quite expensive. Many Chinese simply can’t afford to buy one, so the hopes that suddenly Apple will be able to stem the tide of consumers who are buying other smartphones inside of the iPhone may not be realized. The less expensive iPhone 5C hasn’t been that popular in China, so it remains to be seen whether sales will pick up after it’s offered on China Mobile.

China Mobile could benefit more than Apple

Hong suggests that the only Chinese consumers left who might consider an iPhone are those who are not die-hard Apple fans but might opt for one simply because it’s another choice on China Mobile. China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE:CHL) (HKG:941) may actually receive more of a benefit than Apple because there’s now an additional choice.

Apple will sell up to 24 million iPhones on China Mobile

Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Brian J. White has been bullish on Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) for quite some time. The analyst predicts that the company will sell between 20 million and 24 million iPhones on China Mobile’s network during 2014. He sees an earnings per share benefit of about $4 per share from the deal. White believes the timing for the deal is perfect because it comes just in time for Chinese New Year, an important holiday shopping period in China.

He notes that China Mobile has 763 million subscribers, thus making it worth the wait for Apple to strike a deal with it. White believes that the enormous size of China Mobile’s network gave it a significant bargaining chip which caused the negotiations with Apple to take longer. White’s estimate for the number of China Mobile subscribers who have iPhones already is lower than the number provided by Hong. He estimates that approximately 35 million to 40 million of the carrier’s subscribers have an iPhone on its 2G network.