IDC: 4G phone shipments hit 1.17bn in 2016

Sales of 4G-enabled smartphones pick up in emerging markets, says IDC

Tags: 4GIDC Middle East and Africa
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IDC: 4G phone shipments hit 1.17bn in 2016 Shipments of 4G phones increased in 2016, but it is the first full year of declining iPhone sales, says IDC. (Getty Images )
By  Mark Sutton Published  November 29, 2016

Shipments of 4G-enabled smartphones are set to pass the one billion mark for the first time in 2016, according to IDC's latest Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker.

IDC says that increasing demand for 4G phones will drive growth, 1.17 billion handsets shipping in 2016, out of a total global market of 1.45 billion devices.

While the overall smartphone market will only grow by 0.6% year-on-year in 2016, stronger demand from emerging markets for 4G handsets will see a 21.3% increase in 4G shipments. In Asia/Pacific excluding Japan, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, and Middle East and Africa, 4G devices will make up 77% of smartphone shipments, up from 61% in 2015. In mature markets, penetration of 4G devices will reach 94%.

"It's been a long slog for 4G uptake in many emerging markets as 4G data tariffs have long been very expensive compared to 3G, while 4G handsets themselves have also been relatively pricey across the board," said Melissa Chau, associate research director with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. "We are quickly seeing this change in key growth markets like India where new operator Reliance Jio is aggressively trying to shake up the market by handing out free 4G SIM cards and launching own-branded low-cost 4G-enabled smartphones."

The push to 4G is not only limited to smartphones, but will also provide a temporary boost to the shrinking feature phone market where 4G is a selling point in an even more cost-competitive space. In IDC's short-term forecast, 4G feature phones will feature in emerging markets as well as in mature markets like the US until smartphone prices drop further.

"As we approach the holiday quarter smartphone marketing has picked up significantly across almost all regions as expected," said Ryan Reith, program vice president with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. "In North America and Western Europe, Google has been putting a significant amount of marketing dollars behind the new Pixel and Pixel XL, although early supply chain indications are that volumes are not at the point where Samsung or Apple should see a significant impact for Q4. Of course, as we head into 2017 this can change, but many eyes will be on Google to see how serious they are about pursuing the hardware play."

Smartphones running Google Android still account for 85% of the total smartphone market, IDC said, and this situation is expected to continue into 4G shipments. 2016 is likely to the be the first full year of declining sales for Apple iPhones, the analyst company added, with iPhone accounting for 14.3% of smartphone shipments. Windows devices account for just 0.4% of total shipments, and IDC projects Windows Phone shipments to decline 79.1% in 2016 as the number of OEMs supporting the platform continue to diminish.

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