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Reliance Jio's 4G feature phone could be a masterstroke, here's why

With a 4G feature phone, Reliance Jio is targeting the masses that don’t really see the point in spending thousands on a smartphone.


Reliance Jio’s entry has already disrupted the telecom sector in India, but the company seems to be far from being done. A recent report claimed that the company is now planning on launching a VoLTE-capable feature phone, priced below Rs 1,500, and we might have just got our first look at this device.

Twitter user Rajath Kumar KR has shared a photo of what seems like Jio’s upcoming feature phone. Design-wise there’s not a lot to write about, and it comes with the standard candybar design, with a display and a keypad at the bottom. But worth noting are four keys that tell you this feature phone is meant for Jio users. These include dedicated buttons for Jio apps like MyJio, JioTV, JioCinema and JioMusic. As the names suggest these services offer users access to unlimited live TV, movies on demand and music streaming.

Now some have no doubt questioned why Reliance Jio is planning on launching a feature phone, especially when its LYF-branded VoLTE smartphones are being fast adopted by Indians. A recent report claimed that the company has already sold over 7 million LYF smartphones in the country since January 2016. In fact, this has helped Jio become the fifth biggest smartphone maker in the country this year, as per IDC data. Despite all this, launching an ultra low-cost feature phone is an astute plan, here us out.

As per CMR report, feature phones shipments still outpace smartphones in India. Until November 2016, sales of feature phones was around 25 million, as opposed to 19 million for smartphones. Despite smartphones becoming more affordable, feature phones still account for 55 percent of all mobile phones, and as per reports, less than 15 percent feature phone users actually want to switch to a smartphone.

Reliance Jio is targeting this crowd with its feature phone, which could further hit incumbent players like Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular. Jio is a 4G LTE-only network, which means that only those users who have a 4G phone can get on it (unless they want to do so via a convoluted way with Jio’s portable hotspot device). This means that Jio has not been able to target a big chunk of users, who are still on feature phones.

With the rumored sub-Rs 1,500 4G feature phone, Jio will be able to penetrate much deeper in the Indian market. Earlier this week, the carrier announced it had reached 74.2 million subscribers in just four months since its commercial launch and this smartphone could propel it towards its goal to reach 100 million subscribers even faster.

Currently, feature phone users have to buy a phone and then pay carriers on the basis on every call that they make or text message they send. There’s very little you can do besides that on a feature phone. Jio, on the other hand, offers unlimited free voice calls and text messages on even the most basic tariff plan that starts at just Rs 19 per day or Rs 149 per month. On top of that they can also avail unlimited music streaming, live TV and movies on demand, something no carrier has offered to feature phone users before.

The only thing remaining for Jio is to fix its connectivity woes. During RIL’s quarterly earnings report this week, the company had announced that even now 175 out of 1,000 calls its users made to Airtel were failing. Nevertheless, Jio would be hoping that with its ultra-affordable 4G feature phone, users would be tempted to switch entirely to its network and make use of its services for free.

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  • Published Date: January 18, 2017 12:43 PM IST