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Smartphone growth slowing in China as Apple expands iPhone presence

Though the Chinese market remains a major focus for Apple, particularly with the upcoming launch of the iPhone on China Mobile, new data suggests that overall smartphone sales growth has been slowing from its previous red-hot pace.

Average 3G user growth was at a booming rate of around 18 million new users per month in the third quarter of calendar 2013, according to data from investment firm Wedge Partners. But 3G user growth fell to around 13 million new users per month in the fourth quarter of the year, analyst Jun Zhang said.

Zhang believes that sales of Apple's iPhone in China were affected by slowing smartphone sell-through in the market. Both the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c, Apple's two latest smartphone models, launched there in September on carriers China Unicom and China Telecom.

In addition, data from Wedge Partners suggests that the popularity of Apple's latest iPhones has been slipping in China in favor of handsets from local manufacturers. Specifically, the iPhone 5s was previously the country's No. 2 selling handset, but slipped to No. 3 in October after it was replaced by Xiaomi.

Apple's mid-range handset, the iPhone 5c, didn't even crack the top 20 smartphones tracked by Wedge Partners in October. The data is the latest in a number of reports that have suggested sales of the iPhone 5c may be weaker than some had anticipated they would be in China.

Word of potentially slowing growth in the Chinese smartphone market comes as Apple announced a much anticipated deal with China Mobile, the world's largest wireless provider. Both the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c will become officially available to its 760 million subscribers in January.

Market watchers have high hopes for Apple's agreement with China Mobile, seeing it adding as much as 5 percent to the company's revenue in calendar 2014. Analysts generally expect that China Mobile will move 17 million iPhones, or 10 percent of the carrier's current 170 million 3G subscribers, over the next year.