DUBAI: The market for smartphones is booming across the Middle East and Africa, with 4G handsets gaining ground rapidly in Gulf states, according to new IDC research.

The latest figures from market intelligence firm International Data Corporation (IDC) show that smartphones now make up 75% of the phones shipped in the GCC [Gulf Co-operation Council]. Shipments of 4G LTE handsets have increased more than four times over the past year, to the point where they now account for almost half of all smartphones sold in the region.

"The GCC is less than a year behind the market development already seen in Western Europe," said Simon Baker, program manager for IDC's handset research in Central Europe, Middle East and Africa.

Competition and falling prices are major factors in boosting the uptake of 4G LTE in the GCC, as Samsung's current dominance of Android handsets is starting to be challenged by Chinese brands.

IDC research further showed that in Africa, Turkey and the wider Middle East beyond the GCC, the number of smartphones sold during the third quarter of 2014 was up 300% year on year.

"We are in the midst of a boom," said Isaac Ngatia, a research analyst at IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

"The technology levels are more basic than those seen in the GCC and 4G phones remain relatively uncommon," he added, "but many consumers are now getting their hands on a smartphone for the first time."

The average price paid in these markets is around half that in the GCC and the brand situation is also very different.

"Beyond Samsung and Chinese brands like Lenovo, Huawei, and ZTE that are making a push in the region, many of the bigger players just focus on single countries or sub-regions and aren't well known beyond them," said Baker.

There are also regional brands focused on distribution and marketing and who source handsets from independent manufacturers in China. 

IDC noted the examples of Tecno in Nigeria and Kenya, whose smartphone shipments were up 269% year on year in Q3 2014, and Q-mobile in Pakistan, which has more than half the national market and posted growth of 42%.

Data sourced from IDC; additional content by Warc staff