Tier 2 and Tier 3 carriers will grow their share of smartphone sales to more than 19 percent by 2016, fueled by increased demand and faster networks, according to a new report from research firm iGR.
According to analyst Iain Gillott, non-Tier 1 carriers currently make up less than 10 percent of U.S. smartphone sales. However, that's set to nearly double over the next few years as flat-rate carriers MetroPCS (NASDAQ:PCS) and Cricket provider Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP), as well U.S. Cellular, C Spire Wireless and others, continue to fill out their smartphone portfolios. For the purposes of the study, Gillott said he counted small or regional service providers as any U.S. carrier that is not among the Tier 1 operators.
"What's basically happening is they are behind," Gillott told FierceWireless, noting that smaller carriers trail the larger ones in getting the iPhone and Android phones. "As they get more options, basically they catch up in their base."
Regional and smaller carriers have been steadily expanding their smartphone options during the past few years, mainly via smartphones using Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android platform. Gillott said that what will continue to drive adoption at smaller carriers is similar to what will increase smartphone sales at larger carriers: a desire for newer devices among consumers and faster networks. Many regional carriers are moving to LTE, if they have not already done so. Indeed, MetroPCS believes that by the second half of the year it will be able to provide LTE smartphones that retail for between $99 and $149.
Additionally, more regional carriers are getting Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone. Last week, nTelos Wireless, Alaska Communications, Matanuska Telephone Association, GCI, Kentucky-based Appalachian Wireless and Wisconsin-based Cellcom all said they will launch the iPhone 4S and iPhone 4 April 20. C Spire began selling the iPhone last fall.
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