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iPhone Sales Do Not Help Japan’s Largest Wireless Carrier

Paul Ausick

Japan's largest wireless carrier, NTT DoCoMo, did not sell an Apple Inc. (AAPL) iPhone until just last month with the release of the iPhone 5s and 5c. Competitors Softbank and KDDI have sold the phones successfully since 2008.

Things did not work out exactly as planned or hoped. DoCoMo lost 66,800 Japanese subscribers in September, according to a report at Bloomberg News, while Softbank gained 270,700 customers and KDDI added 232,700. DoCoMo's subscriber base totaled 61.8 million September, compared with 39 million for KDDI and 34 million for Softbank.

According to a report from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, Apple's total share of the Japanese market in the June-July-August period this year was 48.6%. The Android operating system from Google Inc. (GOOG) gets 47.4% of the Japanese market.

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DoCoMo blames its subscriber losses on customers who delayed purchasing a new phone until the new iPhones were launched. The company also said that a shortage of handsets hurt September sales. A market research firm estimates that Softbank garnered 39.5% of Japanese iPhone 5s and 5c sales in September, while DoCoMo grabbed 31.9% and KDDI received 28.6% of sales.

DoCoMo's sales figures are good for Apple, and its lost subscriber numbers are bad for the wireless company. One very interested observer of the Japanese situation has to be China Mobile Ltd. (CHL). The world's largest wireless company, with more than 700 million subscribers, is beginning the build-out of its 4G network and is reportedly near signing a deal with Apple to carry the iPhone.

Losing subscribers is not something China Mobile is likely to be interested in. The sales figures out of Japan could alter the calculus of a deal between Apple and China Mobile.

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