The world’s cheapest smartphone, Freedom 251, has seen its fair share of highs and lows in a very short time span. Just after the announcement, Noida-based Ringing Bells and the Freedom 251 smartphone were the subject of interest for media publications and tech companies around the globe. But seems like the whole Inception-like dream world is crumbling with reports about this whole scenario being alleged as a ‘Ponzi scam’. Here’s a detailed timeline of the rise and fall of the Rs 251 3G smartphone. Also Read - World's cheapest smartphone 'Freedom 251' maker Mohit Goel arrested by Delhi policeAlso Read - Ringing Bells Freedom 251 headlines again, MD claims can still deliver phones by early 2018
February 15, 2016: A yet-unknown Noida-based company called Ringing Bells sends out media invites for the launch of the “India’s most affordable smartphone” called Freedom 251. The invite said that the smartphone would be launched by Union Minister for Ministry of Defense, Manohar Parrikar, and it would cost less than Rs 500.
February 17, 2016: Ahead of the launch event, the smartphone shows up on a website called freedom251.com, with an unbelievable price tag of Rs 251. The website also revealed the bookings would start the next day.
February 17, 2016: With the launch yet to start, the first real-life photos of the Freedom 251 surfaced online, and the device looked like a blatant copy of an Apple iPhone. Even the UI and icons looked like iOS. If that wasn’t all, a little digging revealed that the device was in fact a variant of the Adcom Ikon 4, which was priced at Rs 4,081. The company had just applied whitener on the Adcom logo above the display. Journalists who paid a visit to the company’s office found it deserted.
You can check out our first impressions of the world’s cheapest smartphone here. The company however hit back at all the criticism saying the device that was shown to the media was only a prototype and buyers would get the real device in June.
February 18, 2016: The booking window opened on time, and Ringing Bells promised to deliver the smartphones to buyers by June 30 2016. Despite security concerns with the booking website, there were a deluge of bookings and the company had to temporarily halt bookings citing server overload.
February 18, 2016: Not surprisingly, those who weren’t able to book expressed their frustrations on social media. People also staged an angry protest outside the Noida office for not being able to book the smartphone.
February 19, 2016: Before the registrations were halted, Ringing Bells managed to garner more than 30,000 bookings on day one itself. It claimed that the freedom251.com website received as many as 600,000 hits per second on day one.
Through all this there were two very important questions that were yet to be answered. Ringing Bells reiterated that only the real smartphone would be delivered to buyers. So the first question why had no one seen the device yet. The company also claimed that it would be setting up factories to manufacture the Freedom 251. The question was how the company will manage to set up new factories, manufacture and deliver the smartphone to buyers by June.
February 20, 2016: The controversies showed no signs of slowing down. The Indian Cellular Association (ICA) expressed its concerns about the scheme and wrote to Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. The Telecom Ministry too said that the entire thing seemed shady since a smartphone like this would cost around Rs 2,300 to manufacture in the first place.
February 20, 2016: Despite all the concerns, Ringing Bells President, Ashok Chaddha revealed that the company had garnered a whopping 70,000,000 registrations in only two days. He also allayed fears saying money collected after booking would only reach the company after it had delivered the smartphone.
February 21, 2016: The Noida based company came under the radar of the Income Tax Department. The IT Department would look into the financial structure of the company and also collected documents from the Registrar of Companies (RoC).
February 21, 2016: BJP MP Kirit Somaiya wrote a scathing letter to telecom ministries asking them to look into the Rs 251 smartphone which seemed shady from the beginning. In response to this, Ravi Shankar Prasad asked Department of Electronics and IT Secretary (DeitY ) Aruna Sharma to look into the scheme. He also warned that strict action would be taken if Ringing Bells wasn’t able to deliver the smartphones.
February 22, 2016: Despite all the limelight and controversies, Ringing Bells was adamant that there was nothing shady about the deal. The company claimed that it would sell 5,000,000 smartphones only — 2,500,000 to those who booked online, and 2,500,000 to those who book offline. It claimed that using an economies of scale business model, it would ultimately make Rs 31 profit on each smartphone it sold.
February 23, 2016: There was another u-turn of sorts by Ringing Bells. Instead of manufacturing smartphones in India, as it had earlier announced, the company said that it would be importing the first batch of 5,000,000 smartphones before June 30
February 25, 2016: Under intense pressure from people worried about their money, Ringing Bells made another announcement. It said that the first 2,500,000 buyers who had booked the Freedom 251 would only have to pay cash when the company delivered them the smartphone.
February 25, 2016: Things got worse when a BPO called Cyfuture threatened to sue Ringing Bells. The company claimed that Ringing Bells had not honored their contract and also not paid them. The Noida based company however denied any such claims.
February 25, 2016: The biggest blow however came on the evening of February 25. A government official clarified that Ringing Bells and its Freedom 251 were not a part of the ‘Make in India’ initiative. This was a huge blow since the company had claimed otherwise since day one. This was also believed to have been a major factor behind how a smartphone was being sold at such an absurd price. A Congress MP also went to extent of calling it the ‘biggest scam of the millennium’.
February 26, 2016: Needless to say, Ringing Bells and the Freedom 251 were badly trolled on social media. There was no hint of sympathy from any quarter. An unknown person also created a parody website called freedom651.com, promising delivery of the world’s cheapest smartphone in 10 years via drones.
February 28, 2016: Under the rising pressure, Ringing Bells announced that it would be refunding the booking amount of all the 30,000 people who booked the smartphone on day one. It also promised that the money would reach their accounts within a week.
February 28, 2016: There seemed no respite for the company, as it now came under the radar of the Enforcement Directorate (ED), which started a probe into its finances.
March 1, 2016: The proverbial axe fell on Ringing Bells’ head as the ED revealed that this was potentially a ‘ponzi scam’. Ringing Bells certainly misled people by quoting price as low as Rs 251. Mohit Goel appears to be a publicity-hungry person who thought that if he comes out with an unusual scheme, he will catch the eyeballs of the people as well of media. We have averted yet another Ponzi scam. It appears that they planned to produce fake receipts to CCAvenue showing delivery of phones to withdraw money from escrow account, a senior ED official said.