By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
December 20, 2010
December 20, 2010

Sold out at Apple Stores, authorized resellers and China Unicom

Now those stories about Chinese housewives smuggling Apple AAPL iPhones onto the mainland make a little more sense.

It’s not just that the phones can be had in Hong Kong tax-free, it’s that they can be had at all.

Ticonderoga Securities’ Brian White, back from his recent China tour, reports in a note to clients Monday that the iPhone 4 is sold out for two months at Apple Stores, authorized resellers and China Unicom.

“In fact,” he writes, “we estimate China Unicom CHU has been unable to fulfill approximately one-third of the iPhone 4 orders due to shortages.”

Other findings:

  • The high-end smartphone market in China is roughly 100 million to 125 million subscribers, which provides Apple, he says, “with a significant opportunity for growth in years ahead”
  • China Mobile CHL confirmed to White that although it doesn’t sell iPhones, a special SIM card allows its subscribers to use them
  • Total mobile subscribership in China grew 1.1% last month to 833 million, while 3G wireless ramped up nearly 10 times faster — up 10.4% in November to 31.6 million subscribers

“We continue to believe,” White concludes, “that China remains in the early stages of catching ‘Apple fever.'”

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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