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NPD: Already, More Than One In Five Smartphones Sold Is 4G-Ready

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Some interesting stats out today from the NPD Group underscore just how fast-moving the evolution is in devices today. Although fast mobile networks built on technologies like LTE are far from ubiquitous, 4G-capable smartphones accounted for more than one in every five smartphone purchases — 22 percent — in the last quarter in the U.S. But with a substantial number of consumers still using lower-end devices, that could mean that we may be on the verge of a kind of mobile digital divide.

That 22 percent sales figure represents a significant rise on the year before, when only three percent of all smartphone sales to adult consumers in the U.S. were of 4G devices.

According to figures from comScore from the end of August, one-third of U.S. mobile consumers are now using smartphones.

The growth has partly been down to more devices hitting the market this year, but also the rise of more 4G services, of course, from operators including Sprint (NYSE: S), Verizon, T-Mobile and most recently AT&T (NYSE: T). Sprint’s WiMax network, the first 4G network to go live in the U.S., currently has the highest share of 4G smartphones on its network, and in fact is the only mobile operator whose 4G porfolio outsold that of other smartphones.

NPD, which charts sales as part of its “Mobile Phone Track” service, says that at the moment HTC is the 4G “superphone” leader, accounting for 62 percent of all of those sales and the top-three selling devices: EVO 4G (pictured), Inspire 4G, and Thunderbolt. Samsung is far behind that in second place with 22 percent of all sales. Third is Motorola (NYSE: MMI) with 11 percent and LG (SEO: 066570) is fourth at four percent.

That makes Android the undisputed leader in 4G for now. Apple’s newest iPhone, the 4S, will be able to support HSPA+ networks, which are also marketed as “4G” by some operators, and device makers are expected to release BlackBerry and Windows Phone-based 4G devices within the next year. NPD says it considers all devices that support HSPA+, WiMax and LTE networks, with speeds of 14 Mbps or higher, as part of this category.