The feature phone market in India is undergoing a churn with several handset and telecom companies targeting the bottom-of-the-pyramid consumer with 4G-enabled devices. It all started with the launch of the “effectively free” JioPhone in August. Soon after, leading telco Bharti Airtel announced that it was coming up with its own low-cost 4G feature phone. Domestic handset maker Micromax rolled out its Bharat One phone in September. Intex and Lava are said to be working on similar devices. And now, Nokia might also be joining the league with a 4G-enabled feature phone. Also Read - Best Vodafone-idea (Vi) prepaid plans under Rs 100: List of plans, unlimited data, voice calls, moreAlso Read - Airtel Rs 79 plan vs JioPhone Rs 75 prepaid plan compared: Which offers better value?
HMD Global, which is Nokia‘s parent now, hinted that it could well be working on a feature phone with 4G functionalities, and made no bones about the fact that it is the JioPhone which, in fact, led them towards it. “JioPhone is definitely going to have an impact on the segment, and there is no question about it. We are watching how this materializes. If we see a viable business proposition, we will definitely consider it and participate,” Ajey Mehta, India VP for HMD Global, told ET. ALSO READ: Reliance JioPhone is on a quest to dominate the rural telecom market in India Also Read - Airtel Rs 79 vs Vodafone-Idea (Vi) Rs 79 prepaid plans compared: Data, calls, and other benefits
At present, Nokia has four feature phone models in the Indian market, one of which is the revamped version of the iconic 3310. But none of these devices have 4G capabilities. While traditional feature phone users more than 400 million of them in the country may not require the advanced functionalities of a smartphone, a 4G calling and internet option doesn’t really harm. Hence, the JioPhone has been a trendsetter. And Nokia, which is a dominant brand in India’s feature phone market, is rightfully inspired. “If there is a business opportunity, for sure we are open to it in that [feature phone] category, our brand is very strong,” HMD Global’s Mehta added. ALSO READ: Airtel in talks with handset makers to launch Rs 2,500 Reliance JioPhone competitor
Market sentiments favor it too. According to Counterpoint Research, nearly 25 million 4G-enabled feature phones are estimated to be shipped by the end of 2017. “JioPhone will shorten the upgrade cycle for feature phone users. Currently it is 3-4 years. It could come down to 1-2,” Tarun Pathak, Associate Director of Counterpoint Research, told BGR India in a prior interaction. JioPhone has already accounted for six million orders in the first round. There will be more soon. Airtel’s device is on the horizon too. And state-owned BSNL has tied up with Micromax for bundled offers on 4G feature phones. “Feature phones as a segment has seen the least amount of innovation in the last ten years,” says Pathak. But all that’s slated to change now.