Competition to see who is the No. 2 cellphone maker in the U.S. has become a horse race. After losing it to Apple in 2011, LG for the first time since the iPhone 4S launch reportedly has retaken the spot behind industry-leader Samsung. But how did Apple, which produces only smartphones, for so long hold off the South Korean maker of both smart and feature phones?

According to Hong Kongs Counterpoint Research, LG in December snared thirteen percent of the overall U.S. cell phone market, beating Apples twelve percent. However, it took LGs family of smart and dumb phones to regain the No. 2 spot, which it lost in 2011 when the iPhone 4S was released

South Koreas Yonhap News Agency relays a research note by Hong Kongs Counterpoint Research:

LG Electronics had maintained the runner-up position until the third-quarter of 2011 but fell to third-place after Apples iPhone 4S hit the market.

In other words, for a year, Apple which only makes the iPhone smartphone was able to fend off a cell phone company producing all types of cellphones.

Intriguingly, at the same time Counterpoint said LG regained the No. 2 U.S. cellphone position, comScore was reporting the exact opposite.

As 2012 wrapped up, the research firm announced in the US Apple had unseated the South Korean cellphone maker. As Cody emphasized at the time, the smartphone-only Apple led LG among companies selling both smartphones and dumb-phones. In the comScore survey, which measured the three months between July and October of 2012, Apple led LG 17.8 percent versus 17.6 percent.

An in January, comScore corroborated the December finding about LG having fallen against Apple as the Cupertino firm picked up an additional 1.4 percent of the domestic market, rising to 18.5 percent.

According to Counterpoint and LG, December sales of the companys Optimus G smartphone is what fueled LGs return to #2 in the US. However, The Next Web perceptively points to another LG-made smartphone that could instead get the credit: Googles Nexus 4.

Given its lukewarm sales performance to date, it could well be that Googles Nexus 4 which is built by LG is giving it a sales spike. If that is the case, then the research is somewhat misleading since the Nexus 4 is Google branded and therefore LGs rise is not indicative of its brand awareness of the popularity of its own phones.

In other words, LG is taking credit for sales which likely came from US consumers attracted to the Google brand.

Another tidbit: The survey quoted by the South Korean news agency measures all cell phone sales. The survey does not indicate LG directly outsold Apples iPhone, only that its overall cellphone marketshare rose above Apples share of the overall U.S. cellphone market.

While these numbers particularly since they focus only on the month of December leave much in question, well likely get a fuller picture of LG sales when the company reports its fourth-quarter earnings January 30.