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IDC said:Global 4G smartphone shipments to top 1 billion units in 2016

Worldwide smartphone shipments are expected to reach 1.45 billion units with an on-year growth rate of 0.6% in 2016, according to IDC. Although growth remains positive, it is down significantly from the 10.4% growth in 2015.

Shipments of 4G smartphones, however, are expected to show a double-digit uptake at 21.3% on-year growth globally for 2016 reaching 1.17 billion units, up from 967 million in 2015, said IDC. Much of this growth is coming from emerging markets, Asia/Pacific excluding Japan, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, and Middle East and Africa, 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 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 VP 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 the fourth quarter. 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."

All signs point to 2016 being the first full year of declining shipments for Apple's iPhone, IDC identified. The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus have done well, but three quarters of on-year declines, as well as a projected fourth quarter decline by IDC, will account for negative growth.

It is no secret that Google's Android OS has been and will remain the majority share platform in smartphones for the foreseeable future, IDC indicated. It will also be at the core of the aforementioned 4G growth expected in emerging markets as low-cost Android players are not using newer, faster low-cost chips. The biggest focus point in regard to Android is Google's recent entry into the hardware space, IDC said.

Microsoft's mobile platform remained largely a non-story in 2016 other than HP's reentry into the smartphone space with the X3 product, IDC noted. Windows Phone shipments are forecast to decline 79.1% in 2016 as the number of OEMs supporting the platform continue to diminish.