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GCC smartphone market returns to growth

IDC says 1.1% rise in shipments is first growth since Q1 2017

GCC smartphone market returns to growth
Phone shipments to Saudi Arabia have increased, according to IDC.

Smartphone shipments in the GCC region increased in the third quarter, the first growth since Q1 2017.

IDC reports that the market was up by 1.1% to 4 million units, marking a stabilisation after five consecutive quarters of decline.

Feature phones continued to show strong growth, with shipments up 6.7% 1.9 million units. This meant the overall GCC mobile phone market saw a combined total of 5.9 million units shipped in Q3 2018, up 2.9% on the previous quarter, with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait responsible for driving the market's growth.

Saudi Arabia was the region's top-performing market in Q3 2018, with overall mobile phone shipments increasing 8.4% QoQ.

"It seems the negative effects of Saudization and dependent taxes on the Kingdom's mobile phone space are losing momentum and the market is beginning to settle down again," said Kafil Merchant, a research analyst at IDC. "Additionally, new regulations requiring phones to carry IECEE certification have helped boost official shipments at the expense of grey market imports, while restrictions on the Kingdom's 2G network have seen an influx of cheaper 3G and 4G smartphones to fill the gap."

Bahrain, Oman and the UAE were characterized by declines in Q3 2018, with overall mobile phone shipments for the quarter down 4.2% in Bahrain, 4.3% in Oman, and 7.3% in the UAE. "The UAE mobile phone market is being hampered by an overall lack of disposable income and job security in the country, with the effects being felt across almost every sector," added Nabila Popal, a senior research manager at IDC. "Even events like GITEX Shopper that traditionally help boost electronics sales failed to have a significant impact."

In terms of the smartphone vendor landscape, Samsung maintained its lead in Q3 2018 with 31.2% share of the GCC market, despite suffering a 3.0% QoQ decline in shipments. Apple and Huawei followed with respective shares of 25.0% and 18.7%.

"While many of the leading brands are taking a hit in unit terms, this is largely a strategic move as they are now focusing more on increasing their profitability and the race for volume share is over," said Popal. "As such, vendors are pushing models that are going to add to their bottom lines, which has led to growth in the mid to high segment and an increase in the average selling prices of new flagship devices."

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