China moves past 100M 3G users, seen as "enormous opportunity" for Apple

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The number of 3G users in China has surpassed the 100 million mark with one analyst dubbing the country as a "land of enormous opportunity" for Apple.

In a note to investors released on Monday, Ticonderoga Securities reported that the number of 3G subscribers in China surpassed 100 million for the first time ever, going on to say that the country's ballooning mobile market is significant for Apple's continually expanding international business.

Analyst Brian White reported that Greater China's 3G subscriber base grew by 8 million users or nearly 9 percent month-to-month reaching 101.82 million at the end of September, adding that the total number of wireless subscribers in the region now stands at close to 940 million. He goes on to refer to China as an "enormous opportunity" for Apple, noting users' rapid transition to third-generation data services that can take advantage of the company's iPhone lineup.

White sees the number of 3G adopters hitting the 125 million mark he predicted earlier by the end of 2011, and could potentially reach 250 million to 275 million by the end of 2012.

In the fourth quarter of the 2011 fiscal year, China was Apple's second-largest market and accounted for $4.5 billion in sales, or about 16% of the company's total revenue. The strong quarter contributed to an approximately 270% rise in Chinese sales year-to-year for the iPhone maker, causing some analysts to predict that the region could overtake the U.S. to become the company's largest market in as little as three years.

In the near term, the analyst expects Apple to extend iPhone availability to all of the big-three Chinese mobile carriers including CDMA operator China Telecom, which is expected to release the iPhone sometime in 2012. Currently only China Unicom, the nation's second-largest mobile carrier, is the only company licensed to sell the iPhone, however unlicensed nation-leader China Mobile reported over 10 million customers using the device on its network.

Chinese demand for Apple's handset continues to rise alongside 3G subscriptions, and the Cupertino, Calif. company recently ousted Nokia as the most desired smartphone brand in the country as users begin to use data-centric features like streaming video and e-mail.

The world's largest wireless carrier, China Mobile, continued to lead the 3G market growing the number of subscribers on its TD-SCDMA network to 43.16 million, up 2.84 million or 7.1 percent from August. Official iPhone carrier China Unicom increased its number of WCDMA subscribers to 30.23 million, an 8.5 percent gain during the same period.

China Telecom garnered the highest percentage increase, growing 11 percent or 2.82 million users month-to-month, reaching a total of 28.43 million CDMA subscribers.