China Mobile has nearly 700 million subscribers, with 75.6 million of those currently on its high-speed 3G network. Analyst Amit Daryanani with RBC Capital Markets believes Apple could take 13 percent of the carrier's 3G customers, with sales of between 10 million and 16 million iPhones to customers in the first 12 months of availability.
His numbers are based on adoption rates of the iPhone at AT&T and Verizon, which he has used as a proxy for potential penetration rates with China Mobile. For example, during its fiscal 2012, Apple saw cumulative iPhone units at AT&T grow 48 percent year over year.
Daryanani expects that Apple will finally ink a deal with China Mobile in early 2013. That would mean that the iPhone 5 would first debut with Apple's existing carrier partners, China Unicom and China Telecom.
China Telecom is already gearing up to begin offering Apple's latest handset, the iPhone 5, late this month or in early December, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. Both it and China Unicom are awaiting government approval to begin selling the iPhone 5.
With all three major Chinese carriers expected to offer the iPhone in the near future, Daryanani believes China will be an even greater part of Apple's business going forward. His forecast calls for the Asia-Pacific region to buy 260 million smartphone units over the next five years, which would be nearly half of the 580 million total smartphone he sees being sold through 2017.
RBC has maintained an "outperform" rating for AAPL stock, and reiterated its projected price target of $750.