A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet Motorola MD Sudhin Mathur. My first question was whether there were plans to launch a 4G-enabled feature phone. He declined. I must admit, I was surprised that such smartphone giants neither had plans to reach out to the majority of mobile phone users in India nor showed any intentions of lowering the price of their smartphone models to match feature phones. In my opinion, it’s tantamount to turning blind eye to the real issues that mar India’s mobile phone space.
Guess what, 4G feature phones are coming and they make a lot of sense until the time smartphone players have figured out a way to offer a good enough smartphone for a price that’s closer to the feature phones. The new-born 4G feature phones segment has got its first major push from global chipmaker Qualcomm, which has just announced Qualcomm 205 Mobile Platform, which brings 4G LTE connectivity and 4G services to feature phones.
Qualcomm 205 Mobile Platform: Highlights
The chipset brings LTE Cat 4 modem with up to 150Mbps download and 50Mbps upload. It comes with support for Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.1, ANT+ and FM radio. The processor has dual-core CPU clocked at 1.1GHz with Qualcomm Adreno GPU. The platform further supports 3-megapixel rear camera, 0.3-megapixel selfie camera, VGA display at 480p 60 frames per-second; HD Video streaming, support for Linux-based OS and support for dual SIMs.
Another major feature of the Qualcomm 205 mobile platform is that it also brings support for digital payments through NFC. Qualcomm says the mobile transactions will be secure as they will be encrypted.
Qualcomm 205 Mobile Platform: Availability and partners
The Qualcomm 205 Mobile Platform is available today with devices expected to reach consumers in Q2 2017. Qualcomm has already a list of partners onboard for its new foray which includes the likes of OEM, ODM, and Operators such as Borqs, CKT, Flex, FIH/Megafone, HiPad, Huiye, LYF, Micromax, Reliance Jio, TCL, TSM, Uniscope, Viroyal/Feixun.
Two key names in the list of partners that stand out are Micromax and Reliance Jio. While Reliance Jio has been rumored to launch ultra low-cost feature phones with Jio connectivity, Micromax is working on Bharat 1 and Bharat 2 low-cost feature phones, which are reportedly approved by Google. ALSO READ: Reliance Jio’s 4G feature phone could be a masterstroke, here’s why
Qualcomm and 4G feature phones in India
As said earlier, India has a large population that is still using the dated feature phones. According to a study, about 148 million feature phones were shipped to India in 2016. Counterpoint Research anticipates about 140 million feature phones will be sold in 2017.
“Feature Phone shipments grew 4 percent YoY as the feature phone to smartphone transition slowed in the second half of 2016 due to the strength of ultra-low cost brands, such as iTel,” said the research company in its recent report.
Clearly, Qualcomm sees this segment as its new area of growth. It’s worth pointing out here that Qualcomm has been preferred chipset for premium and mid-range phones, but MediaTek has an upper hand in the entry-level and budget smartphone segment.
“In feature phones, Qualcomm was almost nonexistent. It had 30 percent market share in the overall smartphone market for CY 2016 but its share for entry-level sub $100 segment smartphones was just 12 percent which leaves a lot of room for growth for Qualcomm in India especially with VoLTE feature phones just starting selling in India,” said Tarun Pathak, analyst at Counterpoint Research.
“Being a market leader in LTE technology, Qualcomm understands the space pretty well as compared to rest of the competition. As a result, it can tweak it offering by understanding how the entry level offering can be used especially in emerging markets where local brands are striving for differentiation,” he added.
At the launch event today, Qualcomm said that it was using India as a launching platform but has “a global interest” with the 4G feature phones. The company plans to expand the same to other developing markets as well.
“The Qualcomm 205 Mobile Platform is designed for OEMs and ODMs that service consumers who may otherwise be unable to gain access to high quality, affordable, reliable mobile devices. This includes emerging regions, such as those in India, Latin America, and Southeast Asia,” the company said in a release.
Why 4G VoLTE feature phones make sense?
Even though 4G smartphone prices have come down to roughly Rs 3,000, it’s hard to find a good enough device that offers longevity and quality experience. This has been a major reason why it’s difficult to suggest anyone to buy a smartphone to those with a budget with less than Rs 3,000.
If a 4G feature phone is done right, it could definitely bring millions of people onboard with India’s ambitious ‘Digital India’ mission. While the 4G network brings faster internet connectivity, VoLTE enables one to use free voice services from the likes of Jio. The move enables feature phone users to avail multimedia content and access social networking platforms — the two basic and most sought-after things smartphone users enjoy.
Moreover, let’s not underestimate the value of a longer battery life that feature phones come with, something which can be useful for users in rural and remote areas. Now that we have names like Qualcomm behind this segment, we can only hope more technologies to be integrated into these so-called dumb phones.
What if these phones could be used as Wi-Fi hotspots or support internet by tethering to the desktop? Even if an incremental update, such feature could have a huge impact on users and the overall market. In my opinion, these phones have massive potential and wide use cases.