This smartphone market is booming (Hint: Not China)

Latin America is the fastest-growing smartphone market in the world, according to a new report -- trumping the likes of China and North America, as users ditch older phones for 3G- and 4G-capable devices.

There were 109.5 million smartphone units sold in the region in 2014, a 59 percent surge from the year before, according to a report from GfK.

The growth outpaced the 9 percent posted by China, 11 percent in Western Europe and 28 percent in North America, as Latin American users sought out higher-speed mobile internet.



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"It is the same trend that has driven growth at different times in all regions. LatAm has been one of the later adopters of smartphones and of 3G and 4G technology," Kevin Walsh, director of trends and forecasting at GfK, told CNBC by phone.

In 2014, 79 percent of phones sold were 3G-capable, up from 55 percent the year before.

Big screens

A boom in smartphone sales has already been seen across many emerging markets, particularly China, India and Africa, over the past couple of years.

Consumers in these markets are also hungry for high-spec phones at low price points – a reason behind the success of smartphones makers like Xiaomi in China and Micromax in India.

"Now we are getting smartphones in that sub-$100 range and the $100-$150 range really driving the market. There is a big shift in terms of consumers wanting larger smartphone screens," Walsh said.

It has also led manufacturers such as Samsung and Microsoft to release a slew of products in an effort to tap the appetite in emerging markets such as Latin America.

GfK's data also showed a 52 percent rise in smartphone sales value from $20.6 billion in 2013 to $31.4 billion last year in Latin America, as users upgraded.

China 'saturation'

China, the world's biggest smartphone market, saw sales flat in the fourth quarter of 2014, indicating that the market's growth may have peaked.

In 2013, China was the hot market as companies such as Xiaomi brought affordable high-spec smartphones to the market. The company displaced Samsung as the top smartphone vendor in the country, according to a report by IDC released on Tuesday.

"Chinese adoption of smartphones was much faster and much stronger than most emerging markets, but in 2013, 90 percent of phones were already 3G or above. That is why there has been a slowdown as the market is approaching saturation," Walsh explained.