GCC shipments of 4G LTE handsets have increased more than four times over the last year and are now close to accounting for one half of all smartphones sold in the region, according to the latest figures from International Data Corporation (IDC).
Smartphones now make up 75% of the phones shipped in the GCC, with buyers increasingly moving toward 4G handsets as the market matures.
"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.
"However, the market is further behind the U.S., where 4G already makes up three quarters of the smartphone market," he added.
Competition and falling prices are playing their part in boosting the uptake of 4G LTE in the GCC, according to IDC. "All Apple handsets from the iPhone 5C and 5S now offer LTE, but there is much greater choice when it comes to 4G Android models," says Nabila Popal, research manager for IDC's handset research in Middle East, Africa, and Turkey.
"Samsung is now the region's largest vendor of LTE-enabled devices, and while the average price that a Gulf consumer currently pays for a 4G handset is close to $600 and has not fallen much over the last 12 months, cheaper models are arriving, most notably from Lenovo and Huawei," Popal said.
Elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa, the overall smartphone market is rapidly expanding, with growth rates picking up over the last two quarters. IDC research shows that in Africa as a whole and in the wider Middle East beyond the GCC and Turkey, the number of smartphones sold in Q3 2014 was up 300% year on year.
"We are in the midst of a boom," says 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, but many consumers are now getting their hands on a smartphone for the first time."