Reliance Jio’s celebrated VoLTE-enabled feature phone is poised to face some competition, with rivals scrambling to hit the market soon with their versions of ultra-cheap handsets with attractive features. Bharti Airtel will unveil a sub-Rs 2,000 VoLTE-supported 4G smartphone next week while Idea Cellular and Vodafone India are also expected to launch similar handsets in the next two to three months. Bharti’s handset, sources said, will come with bundled offers for postpaid and prepaid customers. The attendant mobile tariff plans will offer voice and data at very competitive rates, they said, adding that the handset will be available in the market by the third week of this month. According to the sources, the phone will come with a 4-inch touch screen with 1 GB RAM. It will also have robust internal memory of up to 8 GB, which can be expanded using an SD card. Its battery will be 1,600-1,800 mAh and the handset will come pre-loaded with all popular apps such as Facebook and WhatsApp.
Bharti’s music and movies app will also be available, the sources added. A Bharti spokesperson refused to comment. Jio’s VoLTE-enabled feature phone is being offered “free of cost” to customers, albeit with a Rs 1,500 security deposit refundable after three years — over 6 million JioPhone handsets have already been booked across the country and the company says it has got expression of interest for another 12 million. According to market analysts, the price difference between Jio’s device and Bharti’s smartphone to be launched might be narrow.
A senior executive working with a top handset manufacturer, what makes Jio’s phone a hit among those eyeing handsets in the Rs 1,000-2,000 range is that it offers additional benefits like music, movies, GPS and NFC services. “So if there is a smartphone that has 4G and VoLTE and has all these features like Facebook, WhatsApp, etc, and comes within Rs 2,000, I think it could pose serious challenge to the JioPhone,” he explained.
Market sources said Idea Cellular is also likely to come out with similar offers by partnering with handset makers by November-December and Vodafone India could follow suit. These phones could also be in the Rs 2,500 range, these sources said, but this could not be verified by FE with the respective companies.
In July, during the first quarter analyst call, Idea’s managing director Himanshu Kapania had said that the company was working with the handset industry to bring down the cost of handsets by reducing the bill of material, which will aid in closing the gap between the prices of smartphones and 4G feature phones.
Analysts indicated that there could be a few launches of similar smartphones (in Rs 2,000-3,000 range) in the next three to five months by phone makers as they try to counter 4G feature phones, which are expected to eat into the market share of entry level smartphones. According to data from Counterpoint Research, in 2016, 120 million smartphones were sold in India of which around 5% were entry-level smartphones.