Apple's iPhone 5 may be coming early to China

November 9, 2012: 11:21 AM ET

Two of the three biggest carriers expect to have it in late November or early December

The iPhone 4S drew huge crowds. Photo: Feng Li/Getty Images

FORTUNE -- In remarks made Friday on the sidelines of the Chinese Communist Party's 18th Party Congress in Beijing the chairmen of two of the country's leading mobile carriers indicated that they may be selling Apple's (AAPL) iPhone 5 even earlier than expected.

China Telecom's (CHA) Wang Xiaochu told the Wall Street Journal that the phone should be available in early December, if not sooner.

China Unicom's (CHU) Chang Xiaobin, aware that there is still one more regulatory hurdle to mount, was more circumspect. "We hope to offer it this year," he told the Journal. "But what I say doesn't matter."

During Apple's October conference call, CEO Tim Cook told analysts that he expected China to get the device before the end of the year. A late November or early December launch in the world's largest mobile phone market could have material effect on the company's fiscal Q1 2013 earnings.

Meanwhile, RBC Capital's Amit Daryanani issued a note to clients on the impact of an eventual deal with China's "800 pound gorilla": China Mobile (CHL), with 699 million subscribers the country's -- and the world's -- largest mobile carrier. He expects Apple and China Mobile to finally come to terms in 2013 -- perhaps even before Chinese New Year.

"Assuming a 13% iPhone penetration rate with 3G customers," he writes, "we estimate that the addition of China Mobile would add ~$3 to Apple's annual EPS or $45 to its stock price. "

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Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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