Qualcomm guns for affordable 3G-enabled tablets in India

Qualcomm is the exclusive chipset provider for Window Phone 8 smartphones and majority of Windows 8 RT tablets and hybrids. Almost half of the smartphones sold globally are powered by its silicon and so is every LTE enabled device. In other words, no matter what tablet or smartphone you pick up, there is a very high probability of Qualcomm’s tech being inside that runs the show. However, Qualcomm is now gunning for a different segment in India all together – the low-cost tablet market.

There are over 90 tablet brands in India that sell over 500,000 units a quarter. Most of them offer sub-Rs 10,000 Android tablets, which offer Wi-Fi connectivity only and some can get 3G connectivity if users buy a USB 3G dongle that connects with the tablet. According to a recent report, Apple and Samsung account for only 25 percent of the tablet market in India, the rest dominated by local players. At the moment, Qualcomm does not have any significant presence in that market but it won’t be like that for long.

At its annual industry event in Delhi yesterday, Qualcomm and Karbonn Mobile announced their first tablet running on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S1 chipset. The S1 chipset offers a 1GHz single-core processor while other tablet vendors are already selling tablets with dual-core processors in the sub-Rs 10,000 range. But it offers a significant benefit – the ability to not only make voice calls but also 3G connectivity without having to buy an additional 3G dongle. Karbonn says it is talking to carriers to offer bundled voice and data plans but at the moment has not revealed whether any carriers have signed up or even the pricing of the tablet, apart from mentioning it will be below Rs 10,000.

Qualcomm has been late to the local tablet scene but it wants to make amends. The S1 chipset is just the beginning. Over the next few quarters, Qualcomm along with its ODM and OEM partners will launch “made for India” tablets running on its Snapdragon S4 chipsets. It will initially start with its dual-core S4 Play chipset followed by the Krait-enabled S4 Plus and S4 Pro with a quad-core processor.

To decrease time to market for its vendors, Qualcomm is now also providing reference designs (Qualcomm Reference Designs), which essentially has provides a complete solution and all that a vendor needs is to decide the final specifications and external design. MediaTek, one of Qualcomm’s biggest rivals, had successfully implemented this strategy a few years ago with its range of affordable feature phones and dual-SIM phones, that not only undercut the Nokias and Samsungs in pricing but also started the dual-SIM phenomenon. Vendors like Micromax, Karbonn and others rose mostly because of MediaTek’s reference design solution.

Even though Qualcomm is late in this low-cost tablet space, it has one thing going for it – most of the current tablets are made in China for the Chinese market. With abundant Wi-Fi hotspots covering all the major areas in the country and carriers pushing devices on their own, the tablets do not have inbuilt 3G connectivity. Majority of the low-cost tablets sold in India are essentially those “made for China” products without built-in 3G or voice connectivity and that is Qualcomm’s opening for getting its foot into this segment.

Having said that, there are a lot of variables at play. The success of these tablets will be dependent on whether carriers jump in to offer special voice and data plans and of course, the quality of the hardware itself. Whether these tablets succeed or not, this segment is set to witness a lot of excitement in the coming months.