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iPhone 3G: Now serving 660 million potential customers

August 22, 2008, 3:45 PM UTC
A real queue: NYC two weeks after launch

Queues — some real, some made for hire — formed outside cellphone stores in 21 countries Friday as Apple executed the second major overseas roll-out of the iPhone 3G.

The scale of Friday’s operation, which reached from India and Singapore to Colombia and Argentina, was almost lost in the news that some of the eager “customers” lining up in Warsaw were actors paid by the mobile carrier Orange to hide the fact that demand for the iPhone is considerably weaker overseas than it was in the U.S. (link)

How important was the launch? According to a report to clients issued Friday by Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster, Apple (AAPL) enlarged the iPhone’s potential market 78% in one swoop — a fact he says has not been factored into the company’s share price.

After the 7/11 launch, the iPhone 3G was available in 22 countries with, by Munster’s calculation, a combined cellphone subscriber base of 370.5 million customers.

The 21 countries Apple added on Friday boast a total cellphone subscriber base of of 290 million, increasing the iPhone’s reach to 43 countries and 660.5 million potential customers.

Earlier Friday, several news outlets reported that three Russian carriers, with 144 million subscribers, have agreed to sell the iPhone this year, perhaps as early as October.

Of course, nobody knows how many of those potential subscribers will actually buy iPhones. Apple’s only publicly stated goal is that it hopes to capture 1% of the worldwide market in calendar year 2008, which would require selling 10 million iPhones by December 31. Many analysts believe Apple may sell that many before the end of September.

“We believe shares of AAPL will trade on iPhone unit volumes for the next several quarters,” Munster wrote, “so we expect the iPhone unit upside to be a positive catalyst for the stock.”

Below: Munster’s list of the 21 countries where the iPhone began selling on Friday, with their subscriber base.