Verizon iPhone Could Top 15 Million Units in 2011

Financial analysts are clamoring to place their bets on how many Apple iPhones Verizon Wireless will sell in 2011. The range: a modest 9 million to a whopping 15 million units.

That's the top question being asked in the wake of invites sent to media for a Jan. 11 event in New York City that the blogosphere claims will concern the launch of the popular Apple handset on the No. 1 U.S. wireless network.

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster acknowledges that he may have forecasted on the conservative side just a few weeks ago and now says Verizon could match AT&T in shipping as many as 15 million iPhones in 2011.

Munster wrote Dec. 15 that he expected Verizon to ship 9 million units for 2011, with AT&T selling 11 million for a total of 20 million devices snapped up.

Munster, who actually raised estimates 2.5 million units before he hedged again Jan. 10, noted:

"Our raised estimates (from Dec.) may prove conservative. If we assume iPhone units are flat y/y at AT&T with 15m units in CY11 and that Verizon sells as many iPhones in CY11 as AT&T did in CY10 (15m), it would add 10m units to our CY11 iPhone estimate, or $5.9b in revenue and $1.27 in EPS. . ."

Gleacher and Co.'s Brian Marshall told eWEEK that Verizon should sell 12 million iPhone units in 2011, assuming a similar ramp to what AT&T experienced in 2007 and 2008.

And that number might actually prove conservative, Marshall said, adding that AT&T shipped 14.1 million iPhones in the fourth quarter alone. Other analysts offered varying numbers to AllThingsDigital today.

Whether Verizon ships 9 million, 12 million or 15 million iPhones, it will provide quite a boost to Apple's bottom line, and it comes at time when smartphones based on Google's Android operating system are outselling Apple iOS, according to comScore.

How will the Verizon iPhone impact AT&T's own iPhone sales? That depends. Munster's current, conservative model of 20 million iPhones sold (11M on AT&T, 9M on Verizon) assumes a concrete Verizon iPhone launch for mid-February.

If the iPhone does not launch on Verizon in early or mid-2011, he sees AT&T selling 17.5 million iPhones alone for the year.

"In other words, we believe Verizon will cannibalize about 6.5M iPhone units from AT&T, but will also add an incremental 2.5M iPhones in CY11," Munster concluded.

AT&T, which is sniping at Verizon today by claiming a CDMA iPhone will be for customers who don't mind slow phones, might fear a similar pattern.

The carrier vowed to ship 12 new Android smartphones this year, including the Motorola Atrix 4G, Samsung Infuse 4G and HTC Inspire 4G.

How many iPhones will Verizon sell in 2011? This has turned into a fun guessing game, so much so that we invite readers to respond below to the question at hand.