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Mumbai: India is set to become the third-largest market for smartphones in four years, according to researcher IDC, with phone makers launching more affordable 3G handsets and looking to tap buyers in small cities and towns.

Smartphone shipments to India are forecast to rise to 155.6 million units in 2017 from 27.8 million now, accounting for a 10.3% share of the global market behind China’s projected 30.2% share and the US’s 12.1%, according to the IDC Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker report, released on 4 March.

India currently ranks sixth with a global market share of 3%; China has a 32.8% share and the US 15%.

India’s smartphone market is expected to grow sharply because of a variety of factors, including greater availability of low-cost devices and emphasis on less populous regions. In addition, expansion of 3G network coverage and the rollout of 4G networks is expected to boost smartphone sales in the country.

According to the IDC report, India’s year-on-year smartphone shipment growth is expected to be the highest among the top countries—China, US, UK, Japan and Brazil—in the list as a majority of the country’s mobile phone users currently use regular feature phones.

Globally, smartphone shipments are forecast to edge out feature phone shipments in 2013 for the first time, with vendors expected to ship 918.6 million smartphones this year, or 50.1% of the total mobile phone shipments worldwide, the report said.

Smartphone prices have fallen globally and the rollout of data-centric 4G wireless networks have made these “do-it-all" devices increasingly attractive for users.

By the end of 2017, IDC forecasts 1.5 billion smartphones will be shipped worldwide, accounting for more than two-thirds of the total mobile phone shipments.

Currently, much of the world’s smartphone shipments is a result of demand in mature economies such as the US. Smartphone shipments to China, Brazil and India will comprise a growing percentage of the device type’s volume in each forecast year, IDC said.

“Smartphone demand is burgeoning in these large, populous nations as their respective economies have grown; this has made for a larger middle class that is prepared to buy smartphones. China, which supplanted the US last year as the global leader in smartphone shipments, is at the forefront of this shift," it said.

China will remain the world’s largest market for smartphones, specifically low-cost handsets using Google Inc.’s Android operating system and to a lesser degree on Apple Inc.’s iOS.

As for India, smartphones sales more than doubled in 2012 to reach 20-22 million units, research firm Convergence Catalyst said in a report dated 28 February.

For the first time, monthly smartphone sales crossed 2 million units between October and December as prices dropped below $75 (about 4,000). Currently, almost all mobile devices available in India priced over $150 are smartphones, the Convergence report said.

“By our estimates, the share of Indian players (such as Karbonn Mobiles, Micromax) grew from sub 2% in January to close to 30% by December, 2012 (in volume). And, these players are driving down the smartphone prices in India," it noted.

While Nokia Oyj and Blackberry lost significant market share, Samsung India Electronics Pvt. Ltd continued its momentum from late 2011 into 2012 to lead the market both in terms of volume and value.

Among operating systems, Android dominated the Indian smartphone market in 2012, primarily led by Samsung and the growth of Indian handset makers.

Microsoft Corp.’s Windows operating system was available only in high-end devices for most of the year, and although more affordable Nokia Lumia 610 and 510 models with the system were launched in the second half of the year, they failed to garner significant share.

Apple increased its focus on the Indian market in the final months of 2012, with increased distribution, marketing budget and team augmentation, and this has reflected in increased sales of iPhones, said the Convergence report.

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