The market for smartphones in China is forecast to exceed 300 million units this year, representing an industry-leading 32.8 per cent of total global shipments. The market is also expected to be bolstered by rapidly growing domestic demand for Chinese-brand smartphones. In a report yesterday, research firm IDC projected China would remain the world's biggest market for smartphones in the next four years after supplanting the United States last year. It projected that total smartphone shipments in China would rise 52 per cent to 457.9 million units in 2017 from 301.2 million this year. Research firm IHS iSuppli has estimated that smartphone shipments in China reached 186 million units last year. IDC did not provide comparable year-ago numbers. Melissa Chau, senior research manager at IDC Asia-Pacific, said: "While we don't expect [mainland] China's smartphone growth to maintain the pace of a runaway train as it has over the last two years, there continue to be big drivers to keep the market growing." Those factors included ever-lower smartphone prices, which have encouraged more people to replace their basic mobile phones; and the steady development of the nation's mobile communications infrastructure, represented by China Mobile's massive pilot programme for high-speed 4G network services. Most smartphones sold in China run Google's Android operating system, which is typically customised by domestic manufacturers. IDC had earlier ranked domestic brands Lenovo, Coolpad-maker Yulong Computer Telecommunication Scientific, ZTE, and Huawei Technologies, as the country's top smartphone suppliers after market leader Samsung Electronics. Worldwide smartphone shipments are expected to reach 918.6 million units this year, up from 712.6 million last year, according to IDC. It added that global smartphone shipments this year would surpass those of basic mobile phones for the first time, led by burgeoning demand from consumers in China, India, and Brazil. IDC's ranking of the world's top-five smartphone suppliers in the fourth quarter last year were Samsung, Apple, Huawei, Sony, and ZTE. Research firm IHS iSuppli said Chinese-brand smartphone manufacturers would continue to dominate the domestic market, with a more than 65 per cent market share. Kevin Wang, IHS iSuppli's director for China research, said: "Smartphone makers in China are also expected to achieve strong export growth in 2013, with shipments rising to more than 170 million units this year." He also said smartphone shipments in China's "grey market" would grow to 33.5 million units this year, up from 20.2 million last year. Over the past few years, the bulk of these grey-market smartphones consisted of various iPhone models from Apple bought by traders from overseas markets.