4G, Asia lead smartphone sales rise

Global smartphone sales rose by eight per cent in value terms in the first quarter of this year.

Sales of larger screen devices (5″ and higher) continued to drive year-on-year growth according to data from GfK.

But while handset demand increased seven per cent to 310 million units, a slowdown in demand in China and developed Asian nations dragged down growth, from 19 per cent year-on-year in the fourth quarter of 2014.

GfK says 4G compatible phones are rapidly gaining share – surpassing 50 per cent of the global handset market for the first time. It predicts a 4G ramp-up in China in the second half of 2015 to drive incremental demand.

Kevin Walsh, director of trends and forecasting at GfK, said the weakness in China was caused by a significant slowdown in 3G demand, which was not offset by 4G growth.

“We forecast China to return to growth in the second half of the year, driven by a continued 4G ramp-up. In Developed Asia, the year-on-year decline was caused by tough comparisons with Q1 2014, when demand was pulled forward in Japan due to an upcoming VAT increase in April. We forecast unit demand in Developed Asia to grow by three per cent year-on-year in 2015, driven by Japan and South Korea, which are expected to return to growth in 2Q15.”
Smartphone growth in India and Indonesia is also expected to be helped by an expanding 4G network. In Q1 2015, 4G share in both countries was well below the global average, at four per cent and seven per cent, respectively. GfK forecasts 4G unit share within smartphones to reach seven per cent in India and 10 per cent in Indonesia in 2015.

Q1 2015 saw a continued shift towards larger screen sizes, with sales of 166 million units equating to 47 per cent of the global smartphone market, up from 32 per cent in Q1 2014. In China, where the 4G trend is particularly pronounced, the growth in share to 57 per cent – from 32 per cent in Q1 2014 – was driven by cheaper large screen models flooding into the market.

GfK forecasts this screen size migration to continue in 2015, with global demand for large screen devices increasing by 30 per cent year-on-year to account for 69 per cent of total smartphone unit demand this year.


Low-end smartphones – those priced in the region of $0-250 – increased share to 56 per cent, up from 52 per cent in Q4 2014, at the expense of the high-end models ($500+), whilst mid-range ($250-500) share remained stable.

GfK forecasts low-end smartphones to gain further share in 2015, helped by continued price erosion in emerging markets.

Walsh added: “GfK forecasts global smartphone unit demand to grow 10 per cent year-on-year in 2015, a slowdown from the 23 per cent growth experienced last year. Emerging Asia is forecast to be the fastest growing region, driven by India and Indonesia, where low smartphone penetration leaves plenty of room for growth.”

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