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Dialing up big numbers for the iPhone

If anyone thought my post on the long-term success of the iPhone was optimistic, they need only read the comments by Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster in a report widely discussed on Mac Web sites yesterday. His sales estimates for 2007 (3.2 million) and 2008 (12.4 million) are significantly higher than Apple's own projections of 10 million for the entire 18-month period, but it's Munster's 2009 projection that drew the most attention.

Based partly on comparisons to the iPod's trajectory of sales, and partly on the iPhone's multi-function capabilities (phone-iPod-Internet), Munster has estimated Apple will sell 45 million of the devices in 2009 alone. Wow. That would require the iPhone to capture 7 percent of the U.S. market, and 2.8 percent of the global market, several times Apple's goal of 1 percent. Munster also raised his price target for Apple's stock from $140 to $160.

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If nothing else, Munster's estimates make Apple sound conservative.

And a little luck never hurts, either. Yesterday the U.S. International Trade Commission banned the importing of certain cell phone chips made by Qualcomm because they infringe on patents held by Broadcom.

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The iPhone uses Broadcom chips, but much of its competition – primarily the pricey smart phones offered by Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel – use the now-taboo Qualcomm chips. Currently shipping models will be unaffected, but any new models would be blocked -- possibly driving frustrated high-end customers straight to the iPhone.

Unless Qualcomm manages to win its inevitable appeal, Gene Munster might need to hike his price target on Apple's stock yet again.

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