If reports about Samsung's latest achievement are correct, the South Korean technology giant and smartphone king may be able to hang up a sign that says "One Billion Served."

According to market research firm Strategy Analytics, Samsung's devices are the most popular in the world's largest emerging market, China, which has over a billion people. Samsung is even beating Chinese manufacturers on their home turf. Those gains, however, could soon yield, an analyst told us, to makers of lower-cost devices.

Sales Nearly Triple

Samsung sold 30.06 million smartphones in China last year, almost three times more than the 10.90 million units in 2011, to snatch up a 17.7 percent market share of the enormous market, Strategy Analytics said in a report sold to clients, the details of which were leaked to the South Korean news agency Yonhap.

In a summary of the report on its Web site, Strategy Analytics said smartphone shipments (by all manufacturers) to China grew 75 percent year over year "to record levels."

"Samsung stayed just in front of Lenovo for first and second places, while Huawei recaptured third position. Meanwhile, Coolpad quietly gathered a top-five ranking as it expanded products and distribution."

But Yonhap's report adds that Samsung's 17.7 percent market share is a 5.3 percent growth from the previous year, and its current share marks the first time Samsung has been the top-selling smartphone maker since 2009, when it entered that market with those devices.

The growth was partially at the expense of Finland's Nokia Corp., which saw a stunning plunge in 2012 to just 3.7 percent, or seventh place, from almost 30 percent of the Chinese market one year earlier.

After Samsung, China's own Lenovo snagged second place with a 13.2 percent share, but unlike Nokia saw some growth, up 4 percent from 2011, according to the leaked data Relevant Products/Services, while America's darling, Apple, which makes only one phone, had an impressive third-place share with 11 percent.

Two more Chinese manufacturers, Huawei Technologies Co. and Coolpad, brought up the rear with 9.9 percent and 9.7 percent, according to Yonhap.

Broader Portfolio

Samsung's success is attributable to "a wider distribution network, steady operator relationships, huge marketing spend and a broader portfolio," Strategy Analytics senior wireless analyst Neil Shah told us Monday.

"However, it is quickly being challenged and tailed by local vendors such as Lenovo, Huawei, ZTE and Coolpad, threatening Samsung's top spot in the country," Shah said. "This is mainly because the 3G smartphone distribution prowess has shifted towards carriers which are more favorable to local Chinese OEMs, which offer devices at lower costs, higher level of customizations and thus attracting a bigger chunk of subsidy budgets. This is thus not only appealing to operators but price-sensitive Chinese consumers, too."

That means the Chinese market is very much like the U.S. market: alive, competitive and fast-changing, he said.

"Long-dominating international vendors such as Samsung, Apple and Nokia are facing heat in the biggest smartphone market in the world," Shah said.