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Beyond Reliance Jio, incumbent telcos need to create solutions for India’s data problem

India needs more Karbonn-Airtel like partnerships to bring affordable smartphones into the market, to upgrade a billion Indians to smartphones.


India s telecom sector has seen major disruptions over the past decade. In fact, India is one of the fastest growing smartphone markets after China. We ve moved away from slower 2G connections to faster 3G, and now expanding 4G LTE networks. Dumb phones are being replaced by smartphones. Today, an entry-level smartphone can be purchased for well under Rs 3,000. We also have the cheapest call and mobile data rates in the world. Despite all of this being disruptive, there s a larger problem that telcos need to address.

The entry of Reliance Jio took the telecom industry by storm. Incumbent operators found themselves fighting with the new kid on the block. At the end of the day, customers went home delighted. Just a year ago, I used to pay Rs 250 for 1GB 3G/4G data, which used to get exhausted in about 10 days. I used to top up with Rs 250 for additional 1GB data. ALSO READ: Reliance JioPhone hands-on and first impressions: A smart feature phone

Today, my Rs 499 postpaid plan gives me unlimited local and national calls, along with 5GB 4G data. And if you re on prepaid, a Rs 399 plan offers unlimited calls and 1GB high-speed 3G/4G data daily. While all this is for smartphone users, the larger user base feature phone users are left out.

JioPhone and India s feature phone market

At the 40th AGM, Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) chariman Mukesh Ambani announced JioPhone, a smart feature phone for India. He highlighted the fact that India has 78 crore mobile phone users, out of which, 50 crore are feature phone users, and they are being left out of the digital revolution. These users don t want to switch to a smartphone because it is not only expensive, but also not many of these users are convinced with the idea of using a touchscreen smartphone.

To ensure feature phone users aren t left out of the digital revolution, Jio has ensured that the JioPhone comes with 4G VoLTE, high-speed internet with access to JioMovies, JioTV and JioMusic apps, along with features like NFC for tap-and-pay cashless payment mode. The JioPhone will also support apps such as Facebook and YouTube among others. ALSO READ: Reliance JioPhone is on a quest to dominate the rural telecom market in India

Despite all these features that JioPhone packs in, it costs effectively zero with the only catch that one needs to pay Rs 1,500 while getting the phone. However, this amount is completely refundable after three years. And lastly, the JioPhone also supports 22 Indian languages, which will enable a larger number of users to operate the phone in their native language. ALSO READ: Reliance JioPhone: From 4G VoLTE compatibility to voice control, here are the top features of the feature phone

The need for affordable smartphones

Sure, smartphones are expensive for a lot of people, and having a smart feature phone is a good idea. But Indian smartphone maker Karbonn and telecom operator Airtel think otherwise. Karbonn and Airtel recently partnered to launch the A40 Indian smartphone under their new campaign My first 4G smartphone. The smartphone is priced at Rs 2,899, with cash back of Rs 1,500, which brings the effective price down to Rs 1,399. ALSO READ: Reliance JioPhone can be returned before 3 years for a refund, but there s a catch

For the price, users get a smartphone with 4-inch display (800 480 pixels resolution), with dual-core SoC clocked at 1GHz, 1GB of RAM and 8GB internal storage. And it runs Android 7.0 Nougat out-of-the-box, giving users an access to millions of apps on the Play Store. I spoke to Karbonn India s executive director Shashin Devsare to talk about the partnership, trends in telecom and more.

If we look at the trends in the last 2-3 years, the smartphone market has not grown significantly, and last year it was stagnant. In the first quarter this year, there was a bit of de-growth as well. The reason is because most smartphone vendors are only catering to the replacement buyers who want to upgrade from old smartphone to a new one. However, no efforts were made to bring a billion odd mobile phone users into smart telephony. This is the pain point Airtel and Karbonn recognized, and we have come up with the affordable A40 Indian smartphone, Devsare told BGR India.

The smartphone is unlocked and supports dual SIM cards, allowing users to insert and use other network s SIM card too. It also comes with support for 22 Indian languages, including Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati and more. With the kind of offer that we have brought into the market, we are sure there will definitely be a surge in smart telephony adoption. And if that happens, feature phone market may not be able to stay where it is today, Devsare added. ALSO READ: Reliance JioPhone vs Airtel Karbonn A40 Indian: Price, specifications and tariff compared

He further stressed on how the cash back offer works. Soon after the customers buy a Karbonn A40 Indian smartphone from Airtel, their Airtel Payments bank account is created within minutes. Now, the customer has to make a minimum refill of Rs 169 every month (or Rs 3,000 in total) during the initial 18 months period. This is when a cash back of Rs 500 will be credited into the payments bank account. In the next 18 months, the customer again has to ensure at least Rs 3,000 refill is done, after which the remaining Rs 1,000 will be credited into the payments bank account. And unlike, Reliance Jio, there is no handset refund policy here.

Future of affordable smartphone segment

The disruption in affordable smartphone segment has just started, and Karbonn is going to be even more aggressive by launching a gamut of such affordable devices in different price segments, with attractive data packs. If recent reports are to be believed, Idea Cellular and Vodafone may also enter into a similar partnership with one of the handset manufacturers to offer affordable smartphones to its users. ALSO READ: Vodafone-Idea might be working on a series of low-cost 4G phones: Report

Create solutions for India s data problem

All said and done, data has become cheap. With 4G data allowances of 1GB / 2GB per day, telcos have enabled users to be connected to the internet, allowing them to do more. Today, you can watch your favorite TV shows online, you can watch live TV online, search for places, restaurants, book travel and accommodation, and much more.

However, all of this is only accessible to users who have a smartphone, laptops and computers, whereas the feature phone users have been left out. With a move like Karbonn-Airtel partnership, telcos are bringing more customers from feature phone camp to the smart telephony camp. And we need more such partnerships to introduce a billion more mobile phone users to smartphones. When that happens, many more people will be able to reap the fruits of a digital revolution.

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  • Published Date: October 16, 2017 7:15 AM IST

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