The iPhone MOQ

[Kaoru] Kato, president of NTT DoCoMo Inc., said that the firm would want to add the iPhone to its lineup of serviced smartphones if it could form a mutually beneficial contract with Apple, Inc.

Apple requires that carriers servicing its devices sell a fixed amount per year. Katō said that his company could handle such quotas if iPhones accounted for approximately 20%-30% of its overall smartphone sales.

via NTT DoCoMo President Interested in Servicing iPhone — BrightWire

When thinking about an iPhone launch, especially with a new operator, the crucial question is what is the minimum order quantity (MOQ). Some of the iPhone production is sold direct (as in the case of orders coming from Apple’s online store) but the majority of units are sold via operator who order in batches.

This issue came to light when Sprint’s order was leaked in late 2011.  I discussed the order size at the time and put it in context. I concluded that Sprint MOQ was on average 7 million/yr., ramping with 4, 6, 9 and 12 million over a four year period.  I concluded that this was not a particularly aggressive gamble.

Data published since then shows that Sprint actually sold 6.3 million during the first year, well ahead of my expected minimum order of 4 million and above even the expectations for the second year of sales. So far then Sprint and Apple gauged minimum demand quite accurately.

I also showed that the Sprint MOQ was probably indexed off their sub base. I suggested that, based on subs data at the time, Sprint was committing to roughly 13% of its subs buying an iPhone every year. This was indexed off the data showing that 17% of AT&T subs were buying iPhones every year and 10% for Verizon. (I also assumed that this run level would be ramped over time).

The updated totals for the 12 months ended October 2012 are 19% of AT&T subs purchased an iPhone, 12% for Verizon and 12% of Sprint. The performance is shown in the following graph:

Screen Shot 2013-01-17 at 1-17-3.33.10 PM

Which leads us to think about how the MOQ for the iPhone is calculated. If we assume Sprint and Verizon performance is typical it would imply that an operator like DoCoMo would be required to purchase iPhones at the rate of about 10% to 12% of its sub base each year, modulated to some degree by a ramp.

NTT DoCoMo had 60.7 million subs in September 2012. 10% is about 6 million. Is Mr. Kato’s quote above of 20%-30% of smartphone sales consistent with this?

In an earlier interview (in July) Mr. Katō also stated that the target for smartphone sales in the year to March 2013 was 13 million. 30% of that would be 4 million units.

This suggests that the iPhone MOQ for DoCoMo is only about 6% of subs. (4 million) Perhaps this is the basis of negotiation for an iPhone deal. Apple may have held out for 10% subs/yr. with Sprint on the basis of performance of the iPhone in the US but might be willing to settle for 6% subs/yr with DoCoMo, at least for the first year.

The MOQ figure as percent of subs for China Mobile would also be an interesting point of debate.