Will Japan's largest carrier offer the iPhone?
While a partnership with China Mobile would be huge for Apple sales, don't forget about NTT Docomo.
As Apple begins to make preparations for the upcoming iPhone 5S, which is widely speculated will launch Sept. 10, chatter has picked up about the remaining cell phone carriers with whom Apple has yet to strike deals. An executive from NTT Docomo, Japan's largest carrier, suggested that a deal between the two companies would make good sense.
In an interview with Japan's Sankeibiz, NTT Docomo senior executive vice president Kazuto Tsubouchi noted, however, that an imminent arrival of the iPhone on NTT Docomo's network would be tricky. "It would be difficult to starts sales on the 10th," Tsubouchi said, referring to the rumored release date of the new phone.
Shares of NTT Docomo were higher in Monday trading, gaining 1.7% to $16.17. Apple shares were also gaining, tacking on 0.55% to trade at $503.78.
Apple is expected to announce the unveiling of two phones next month. In addition to the iPhone 5S, which will reportedly come in a gold or champagne backing as well as the standard black and white, Apple will also unveil a cheaper iPhone, currently dubbed the iPhone 5C.
Apple declined to comment for this story.
With over 61 million mobile customers in Japan, NTT Docomo is the nation's largest carrier that doesn't sell the iPhone. SoftBank and KDDI currently have contracts with Apple, per the company's carrier support site.
While NTT Docomo pales in comparison to China Mobile and its 760 million mobile subscribers, getting the largest carrier in Japan would be another feather in Apple's hat. Apple had 35.9% of the Japanese smartphone market as of the end of March, according to a May report from Japan's MM Research Institute. Trailing Apple are Fujitsu with 13% and Sony with 12% of the market.
NTT Docomo has over 15 million subscribers to its Xi (pronounced "crossy") service, which is the company's extra-high-speed LTE mobile service. While Apple would not capture all 15 million subscribers, anything that Apple does capture is not currently baked into analysts' estimates, and would have to be factored in when building models for fiscal 2014 and beyond.
For fiscal 2014, Apple is expected to generate $180.2 billion in revenue, with much of that coming from the iPhone. In Apple's most recent quarter, the company generated $35.323 billion in revenue, with 56.2% of that coming from the iPhone. It's clear that although Apple has other products, the company is reliant on the iPhone to generate a healthy portion of its revenue.
As Apple comes under pressure (TheStreet) to increase its buyback program from activist investor Carl Icahn, who hopes to boost its share price, one thing that will keep shareholders happy is selling more iPhones. A deal with NTT Docomo is undoubtedly going to do that, though the timing of said deal continues to remain a mystery.
With an executive from NTT Docomo now publicly mentioning selling the iPhone and securing a deal, it appears that something may happen between the two companies sooner rather than later.
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