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4G smartphone uptake a 'long slog' in markets like APAC

4G smartphones are set to beat 1 Billion shipments this year, IDC says it’s because emerging markets are playing catch up.

However, the latest forecast from IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker shows that while growth remains positive, it is down significantly from the 10.4% growth in 2015.

IDC has also found that 4G smartphones are still expected to show double-digit growth at 21.3% year-over-year globally for 2016, reaching 1.17 billion units, up from 967 million in 2015.

Much of this growth is coming from emerging markets like Asia Pacific (APAC) where only 61% of 2015 smartphone shipments were 4G-enabled.

"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," says 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 IDC says it will also provide a temporary boost to the shrinking feature phone market.

In IDC's short-term forecast, 4G feature phones will feature in emerging markets like APAC, as well as in mature markets like the U.S.

"As we approach the holiday quarter smartphone marketing has picked up significantly across almost all regions as expected," says 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,” he explains.

“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."

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