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Weaker than expected iPhone 5c sales may trigger China Mobile renegotiation

Sales of Apple's less-expensive iPhone 5c may be holding up an anticipated China Mobile deal, says KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, but negotiations are likely nearing an end point.

According to a research note obtained by AppleInsider, Kuo believes the much-rumored China Mobile partnership will generate 15 to 20 million iPhone unit shipments in 2014, which will jump to 20 to 30 million the year following. The analyst notes, however, that the actual numbers depend on Apple's strategy in midrange and low-end products.

"We believe that weak sales of iPhone 5C may trigger a re-negotiation of the Apple-China Mobile partnership," Kuo writes. "However, the indications are that the deal is nearing an end. While recent market speculation calls for the deal to boost 1Q14 iPhone shipments to 45-50mn units, we think this is overly optimistic."

As such, Kuo maintains his first quarter forecast of 38 million units worldwide.

The analyst's latest surveys indicate that demand for a TD-LTE version of the iPhone 5c, which is compatible with China Mobile's unique 4G network infrastructure, has declined "dramatically" over the past weeks. Subscribers are now focused on the more expensive iPhone 5s, Kuo says.

Due to the swing in demand, Kuo pegs TD-LTE iPhone 5c shipments at 1.0 to 1.5 million units in the fourth quarter of 2013 and under one million for the first quarter of 2014. This is apparently well below Apple's original production plan and would possibly require a renegotiation with the world's largest wireless provider.

The brokering may be what is holding up an Apple-China Mobile partnership many see as a foregone conclusion. For its part, the telecom acknowledged it is in talks with Apple over the iPhone, but has repeatedly denied rumors of an imminent finalization.