By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
December 10, 2011

If true, Apple will have just expanded its addressable market by 167 million users

China Unicom (CHU), the second largest carrier in the world’s largest mobile phone market, received a government permit this week to begin selling the iPhone 4S on mainland China this month, according to two Chinese-based news outlets (see here and here).

However a third source, citing a report by unnamed China Unicom “insiders” to Sina Tech, says the permit issued was for the iPhone 4, not the 4S. See here.

Greater China — which Apple (AAPL) defines as Hong Kong, mainland China and Taiwan — is the company’s fastest-growing market, with sales up 270% since 2010, thanks in large part to the seemingly unquenchable appetite for iPhones among China’s growing middle class.

When Apple began taking pre-orders the iPhone 4S in Hong Kong last month, they sold out in 10 minutes (see here). A week later, when the phone went on sale, riot police had to be called in to control the line-cutters and scalpers snapping up iPhones for re-sale at steep mark-ups on the mainland. (See Massive crowds gather in Hong Kong for iPhone 4S launch.)

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