In order to counter Reliance Jio's aggressively priced mobile data and talktime plans, Bharti Airtel is looking at introducing a 4G smartphone priced at Rs 2,500 which will be bundled with huge amounts of data and voice minutes, according to The Economic Times (ET). The phone will be an Android-based device and is expected to be launched around early October, just before Diwali.
According to ET an industry insider who is aware of the matter, has said that Airtel is in talks with handset makers to bring in the Rs 2,500 smartphone. The device is expected to have a bigger screen, better camera and better battery performance than what a feature phone could offer. Smartphone manufacturers such as Lava and Karbonn are in talks with Airtel for mass-producing this smartphone said sources to ET.
Jio and Airtel are in a battle for targeting the 500-million market of feature phone users who cannot afford a 4G smartphone. The first one to make an impact was Reliance Jio with their free-of-cost JioPhone available for the Indian market. Pre-bookings for the same shall begin on 24 August. There is however, a security deposit of Rs 1,500 required to purchase the phone and it will be returned to the user after a period of three-years. The phone is expected to be delivered to the masses by September this year.
Airtel, on the other hand, is betting on a low-cost 4G smartphone to give some competition to the JioPhone. Airtel is expected to co-promote the handset with the device makers and it will not be subsidising the smartphone. But analysts have expressed doubts over the feasibility of providing good specs at this price point on a smartphone.
According to ET, Navkendar Singh of IDC feels that having a good quality screen, battery and high-speed processor at Rs 2,500 is a challenge and it's a bit ambitious to expect feature phone users to spend more for an entry-level smartphone. An earlier report that we had published also indicates that 40 percent of the country can't afford a feature phone, let alone a smartphone. 2G Feature phones currently sell for around Rs 1,000-1,500.
Another industry insider has told ET that the phone may be based on the Android Go, a variant of Android announced in May which is primarily for areas with slow internet access. It can also easily run on a low-end smartphone.
Airtel hasn't officially commented on the matter. Google did announce that the Android Go program is in the works and ET's unnamed sources had confirmed to them in May that Google is looking for a pre-Diwali launch of Android Go. Airtel is likely looking to cash in on the buzz that the launch will generate as well as to offer some sort of alternative to the JioPhone.
With the launch of the JioPhone, Reliance has ushered in a new product category, one that might be hard for competitors to populate. The device is cheaper than any other 4G device in the market today. Being a feature phone with support for Jio Content services, the barrier for entry is also lower than with a smartphone.
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