Smartphones will represent the majority of handsets sold in the APAC region by 2015, compared to just 5% of phones sold in 2009, according to Frost & Sullivan.
The smartphone is catching up to the feature phone in all Asian markets, the research firm said. Region-wide shipments are expected to hit 477 million - 54% of overall mobile sales - by 2015.
In the more developed markets smartphones are increasingly entering the mainstream, while operators in developing regions are pushing them as a means to drive up 3G adoption.
"Smartphones are critical to every operator's mobile broadband business case, as a smartphone user's ARPU typically increased by 25% to 100% after adoption depending on the market," Frost & Sullivan industry manager Marc Einstein said.
Incremental data usage from smartphones is expected to generate over $38 billion for Asia-Pacific operators by 2015, up from just $1.3 billion in 2009.
And with overall device sales flat or negative in many markets, smartphones are growing increasingly important for vendors in the region as well.
But there remain a number of barriers to smartphone adoption in Asia, chief among them being the large number of prepaid customers.
Over 80% of APAC's mobile users are prepaid, with this figure being as high as 97% in some markets, Einstein said. This makes smartphone subsidies impossible for most users.
The region also suffers from “a lack of public Wi-Fi, which has been a smartphone savior in the USA and other developed markets,” he said. This problem is particularly acute in APAC's emerging markets.