iPhone to make Israel debut this week

JERUSALEM, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Apple Inc's AAPL.O iPhone will make its official debut in Israel this week when the country's three main carriers will start selling the coveted smartphone 2-1/2 years after its initial launch.

Cellcom CEL.NCEL.TA, Israel's largest mobile phone operator, will begin iPhone sales on Wednesday at midnight (2200 GMT), a company spokeswoman said.

Rival Partner Communications PTNR.TAPTNR.O -- which operates under the Orange brand -- will launch sales on Thursday, a spokeswoman said, while Bezeq Israel Telecom BEZQ.TA unit Pelephone, the third largest cellular provider, is also slated to start sales on Thursday, local media said.

The company was not immediately available for comment.

Israel has one of the highest mobile phone penetration rates in the world at about 125 percent. Some 80,000 Israelis are estimated to already have iPhones, having bought them abroad and had them unlocked.

Israeli operators are committed to buy a minimum of 80,000 units each but Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst Haim Israel estimates the numbers will be higher.

He believes the iPhone will boost average revenue per user by 30 percent. “Thus, the average payback period would be only 13 months,” Israel wrote in a client note.

He reiterated a bullish view on Israel’s telecoms sector, despite the expected subsidies for the iPhones.

“Simultaneous launch by the three carriers should protect them from loss of market share and keep in check ... expenses to increase awareness,” he said.

“The telcos’ high leverage should prevent them from embarking on a price war or other adventure as their interests are closely aligned”. (Reporting by Sangwon Yoon, Editing by Steven Scheer and David Holmes)