Even as telcos ready to do battle in the high-speed 4G services space, consumers are arming themselves with 4G handsets so as not to miss out on the action. Sales of 4G handsets topped those of 3G phones in October for the first time ever, shipment data from IDC showed.
There are just about 1 million 4G users in the country today and less than 100 million use 3G services. But the composition of the nearly 1 billion subscriber base is set to change dramatically with the arrival of Rjio, whose soft launch is scheduled for December 27.
Indeed, a big chunk of subscribers might simply skip the 3G phase, moving directly to 4G, say analysts, given phones are becoming increasingly affordable; prices are down 15% over the past year and come as cheap as R5,000. “We expect consumers to leapfrog from 2G to 4G and expect faster and reliable 4G networks due to higher capex by telcos,” analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch wrote recently. The firm estimates the 4G smartphone base to jump from 5 million in FY15 to 180 million in FY18 leading to 4G subscribers accelerating from near zero in FY16 to 90 million by FY18.
At their October sales, Flipkart and Snapdeal are understood to have together sold 2.3 million phones worth Rs 1,800 crore with the average price per mobile phone of Rs 7,700. Around 67% of the smartphone market are priced at less than $200 and analysts expect 4G net additions to be faster than 3G net additions by FY19.
While RJio will do a full-fledged launch of 4G services in a couple of months, Bharti Airtel has been first off the mark while Vodafone has made a modest beginning in Kerala. The country’s third largest mobile operator Idea Cellular plans to enter the fray sometime in the first half of 2016.
“With 25.9% month-on-month growth, 4G-based smartphone accounted for more than half of smartphones shipped in October,” Karthik J, senior market analyst, client devices, at IDC India said. “This gain is mainly at the expense of 3G-enabled handsets as vendors are replacing their existing models with 4G based smartphones,” he added.
The growth in 4G handset shipments came in despite the 6.9% decline in the total number of smartphones that were shipped into India in October, compared with a month earlier. In October, about 9.3 million smartphones were shipped into the country while in September it was about 10 million phones, IDC said. The decline in shipments was because retailers had stocked up inventory in the last weeks of September ahead of the festive season in October, IDC said.
Attractive data bundling offers from operators will ensure that sales of 4G phones will continue unabated in the days to come. Sample this: BhartiAirtel is offering its consumers a free upgrade to 4G services, which means no extra charges. In addition, with every 4G SIM swap, Airtel is offering six months of unlimited music streaming and downloads on its Wynk Music service and five free movies per month for six months on the Eros Now channel of Wynk Movies. And what sounds like a steal for consumers is tariff plan — Infinity Plans — being offered by the company which at Rs 999 offers unlimited local voice calls on the Airtel-to-Airtel network along with 3GB data benefits and access to Wynk Movies and Wynk Music. This gets scaled up to Rs 1,999 wherein 7GB of data come with unlimited local and STD calls, and free roaming services coupled with unlimited Wynk songs and movies.
With voice Arpu (average revenue per user) coming down and data increasing, operators are devising packages focusing on the latter. For instance, during the July-September quarter, Bharti’s voice Arpu at Rs 140 saw a 6% sequential decline whereas data Arpu at Rs 193 jumped 7% quarter-on-quarter. During this period data as a percentage of revenue for Bharti comprised 21.5% against 14.5% a year ago.
The increased shipments were led by China’s Lenovo Group, Xiaomi and Vivo, which in total grew 18% in October compared with September, IDC said. “Lenovo Group is one of the key driver for this growth with considerable volume of shipments coming from their new line up of smartphones like A1000, Vibe P1, A6010, etc,” it said.
Samsung’s On5 and On7, OnePlus 2, Apple’s iPhone 6s were the other few smartphone models that incrementally contributed to the online volume in October 2015, it added.