Apple bears beware: China 3G subs grew 118% from 2011

The launch of the iPhone 4S in Beijing last January. Photo: M.I.C. Gadget

FORTUNE -- The skeptics who completely misjudged Apple's iPhone sales in April did so, as predicted, because they forgot about China -- the company's second-largest market after the U.S.

For those analysts who have reduced their iPhone estimates in the past week -- including a couple new ones today -- the note Topeka Capital's Brian White issued to clients Monday might serve as a wake-up call.

The last of the major Chinese carriers have now reported their June subscriber totals, and despite weakening economic growth in the country, they are huge.

  • Total wireless subscribers: 1.05 billion, up 0.9% from May, and the fourth consecutive month that mobile subscribers in China exceeded 1 billion. (The U.S., by comparison, had 332 million wireless subscribers as of Dec. 2011.)
  • Total Chinese 3G subscribers: 176 million, up 118% year over year. Interestingly, China Mobile's (chl) share of the country's 3G market actually fell. China Mobile is the world's largest telephone company, but as White notes, it "is the only major carrier in China that does not have a relationship with Apple to sell the iPhone and we believe this is showing up in the company's [monthly] 3G subscriber growth."

"We believe the country's mobile Internet is at an inflection point," White writes, "and Apple (aapl) will prove to be a major beneficiary."

Apple will report its quarterly iPhone results (along with everything else) after the markets close on Tuesday. We expect sales into its "greater China" region to be a major factor.

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