The smartphone market is slowly maturing and overall handset sales, including feature phones, remained flat in the fourth quarter of 2012. However, sales of LTE enabled devices skyrocketed in developed markets.
According to Strategy Analytics, shipments of 4G smartphones grew by 1100 per cent in Q4 2012.
The surge was led by Apple and Samsung, while at the same time shipments of 3G phones slowed. The trend coincides with an aggressive carrier push in Europe, including the UK.
Just a year ago, LTE connectivity was reserved for high end smartphones, but the mobile landscape is changing and even cheaper SoCs now offer integrated LTE. Qualcomm leads the way with last year’s Krait-based Snapdragon S4 chips, along with new “century series” Snapdragons coming on line right now. Apple already has LTE in current generation products, although older 4-series iPhones lack LTE support. By the end of the year Nvidia will introduce the Tegra 4i, its first SoC with integrated LTE, and Intel also plans to deliver LTE in its next generation mobile chips, coming in early 2014.
In terms of volume, smartphones are expected to overtake feature phones this year, which means plenty of mid-range LTE smartphones will find their way to consumers’ pockets. Although LTE is expected to be the fastest growing WWAN technology in history, it is still off to a slow start in many markets, including Britain. According to its last earnings report, Everything Everywhere didn’t add many 4G users since it launched its 4GEE network. However, things are picking up and other carriers will enter the market later this year, although Ofcom failed to raise plenty of cash on its 4G spectrum auction.