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Altogether, 4G unit share more than doubled compared with the same period a year ago, up to 58% from 26%, said GfK. The analysts noted that with the launch of a second major 4G mobile network in India in 2015, 4G smartphone penetration was expected to continue to grow at the expense of 3G.
GfK director of trends and forecasting Kevin Walsh said India was expected to be the largest contributor of smartphone unit growth worldwide in 2015.
“The main reason behind this is the currently low smartphone penetration in the market together with a significant intensification of competition amongst smartphone vendors, which will drive ASP [average selling price] erosion, allowing more affordable devices in the market,” he said.
Global smartphone sales value was up by 8% year-on-year, while unit shipments were up by 6% year-on-year. ASPs in US dollars declined by 1% sequentially but were up by 3% on a year-on-year basis, likely due to the introduction of the iPhone 6.
Western Europe saturated
GfK flagged a number of other factors at play in the handset market, notably the saturation of western Europe, a trend towards price polarisation in North America, and emerging local brands in China and India giving players with global scale a hard time.
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In western Europe, unit sales grew by 9% year-on-year to 30.3 million, but sales value dropped by 7% to $11.7bn, due to a mix-shift towards low-end devices capturing close to 50% of the market. Western Europe naturally had very high rates of LTE penetration, which was highest in Norway at 90%, with its fellow Nordic economies of Denmark and Sweden close behind.
In central and eastern Europe, regional smartphone demand was up by 3% year-on-year, buoyed by the Polish and Romanian markets, but offset a little by drastic declines in unit sales into Russia and Ukraine, down by 11% and 34% respectively due to the impact of sanctions and the ongoing Ukrainian crisis.
Worldwide, there was also a clear underlying trend towards consumers optimising their digital consumption by opting for larger screens – within affordability constraints – and handsets with screens of more than 5 inches accounted for 48% of all units, up by 17% year-on-year.
Big-screened models were particularly popular in China and a region GfK refers to as "developed Asia-Pacific", which includes Australia and New Zealand, along with markets such as Japan, Singapore and South Korea.
Note that GfK’s statistics track sales to users as opposed to supplier shipments, so do not account for stock held in retail or business-to-business channels.