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US consumer demand for 4G phones soars

US consumer demand for 4G phones soars

More than one in three smartphones sold in the fourth quarter of 2011 in the US were capable of some form of 4G high-speed networking, whether LTE or HSPA+, the NPD Group reported on Tuesday, writes.

NPD said the 4G smartphone market grew from 6% in the fourth quarter of 2010 to 35% in the same quarter last year. The firm's analysts said growth was driven in major part by the successful launch of Apple's iPhone 4S.

The most popular 4G network technology in smartphones was HSPA+, at 22% of smartphone sales, BGR reports.

The only 4G network technology offered by AT&T until 2011, and still the only 4G technology offered by T-Mobile, HSPA+ received a tremendous boost in Q4, because it was the only 4G technology supported by the popular iPhone 4S.

One year after Verizon's launch of the first commercially deployed LTE network, LTE-enabled handsets accounted for 7% of the smartphone market; however, consumers are exhibiting a strong association between LTE and 4G. More than a quarter (26%) of consumers who purchased LTE phones were specifically seeking 4G technology in 2011, compared to just 9% of all smartphone buyers.

The debate over what constitutes 4G made headlines recently when iPhone 4S smartphones updated to iOS 5.1 displayed the '4G' icon despite the fact that Apple smartphones are still technically 3G, PCMag says.

AT&T considers its HSPA+ network – a speedy upgrade to its HSPA-based 3G network – a 4G network. AT&T's 4G LTE network went live in late 2011, expanding to 11 new markets just this week, but the iPhone is not a 4G LTE device.

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