Apple's iPhone Opportunity in China Keeps Getting Bigger

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We've been talking an awful lot about Apple's (NAS: AAPL) opportunities in China around these parts. As if we needed more evidence of Cupertino's explosive potential within the country, China's government has given us just that.

According to government estimates, China's overall mobile subscriber base has just topped 1 billion. That's a lot of opportunity in a country where potential buyers riot just to get their hands on an iPhone -- much more growth potential than there is domestically. No. 2 carrier China Unicom (NYS: CHU) has just lost its exclusive grip on the iPhone recently, as No. 3 carrier China Telecom (NYS: CHA) is launching the device on its network this month. We're still waiting on the inevitable addition of top dog China Mobile (NYS: CHL) .

China has a population of more than 1.34 billion people, so that mobile subscriber figure of 1 billion represents only three out of four of the country's ranks. But remember that the vast majority of those subscribers haven't even yet migrated to 3G data service yet. Here are those three carrier's subscriber figures as of January.

Carrier

Mobile Subscribers

3G Subscribers

China Mobile655.4 million53.9 million
China Unicom202.9 million43.1 million
China Telecom129.3 million38.7 million
Total987.6 million135.7 million

Sources: Investor relations. Data as of January 2012.

In the past few months, the country has gained enough mobile subscribers to cross into 10-digit territory, but 3G penetration remains relatively low. 3G penetration from those January figures is 13.7% of subscribers, but just 10.1% of the total population.

Compare that with our figures stateside. The United States has a population of approximately 313 million, and the CTIA estimates a total of 322.8 million wireless subscribers as of last June -- yes, that's over 100% mobile penetration. More than 98% of our population has 3G coverage, with more than half of us paying for the service.

That's a massive iPhone opportunity within China as the fastest0growing emerging market. Next stop: Brazil and India.

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At the time this article was published Fool contributorEvan Niuowns shares of Apple, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Check out hisholdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and China Mobile.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of China Mobile and Apple and creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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