Apple's reach in China could soon be growing.
Citing anonymous sources, Reuters reported today that China Telecom will be getting Apple's iPhone by the end of this year. The move would make Apple's cell phone available to an additional 106 million subscribers.
Apple already offers the iPhone in China through carrier China Unicom. The two companies inked a three-year agreement to offer the device there, beginning with the iPhone 3G in 2009. The carrier got the iPhone 4, Apple's latest generation of the device, less than a year later.
In a research note to investors this morning, Ticonderoga Securities analyst Brian White estimated the high-end mobile-phone market in China reaches anywhere from 100 million to 125 million subscribers, and is worth "approximately a $70 billion revenue opportunity for Apple."
China Telecom specifically makes up close to 12 percent of China's total wireless subscriber base, which White pegs at 896.2 million. Of that, 73.8 million are 3G subscribers, with China Telecom accounting for a little more than a quarter of that total.
Apple remains selective about what carriers it makes its phones available on, though the overall number continues to grow beyond 200 worldwide. Part of that has been due to the wireless technology within the device, with Apple only recently launching a CDMA version of the iPhone in February. Up until then, the company had used the more pervasive GSM bands.
Reports that Apple was mulling bringing the iPhone to additional carriers in China existed before a CDMA version of the iPhone was announced, including a prediction by J.P. Morgan analyst Mark Moskowitz in October that such a device would be headed to China Telecom "in early to mid-2011."
Last month an alleged photo of Apple Chief Operating Office Tim Cook making a visit to China Mobile, the largest mobile operator in China, cropped up, suggesting the two companies were also working on a deal.
Of course the big question beyond whether the iPhone will arrive on the additional carrier is which iPhone it will be. The wait continues for Apple to announce a follow-up to the iPhone 4, which is now more than a year old. Historically Apple has released a new version of the phone around the same time every year.