Monday, 23 April 2018

To counter Jio, Airtel plans to launch bundled 4G smartphone at Rs 2,500 before Diwali

NEW DELHI: India’s biggest mobile network Bharti Airtel is all set to launch a bundled 4G smartphone for just Rs2,500 before this Diwali. The phone comes with large amounts of data and voice minutes to outsmart its rival Reliance Jio and to retain its share in the mass market.

The 4G device will be based on the popular Android operating system. Users can download all apps available on the Google Play app store, according to a report in Economic Times.

The launch is likely around the end of September or in early October.

“Airtel is talking to some handset manufacturers to bring in a smartphone around Rs2,500, which will have a bigger screen, better camera and better battery performance than what a feature phone could offer,” a senior industry executive said. “Discussions are at a very advanced stage,” the person added.

Sources at handset makers Lava and Karbonn confirmed that they are in separate talks with the telecom market leader for a mass-market 4G smartphone.

However, Bharti Airtel declined to confirm the report.

Target Feature Phone Users

Amid the intensifying battle for data customers, both Jio and Airtel are shifting their focus to the roughly 500 million feature phone users who still use voice services and haven’t upgraded to smartphones for reasons of affordability or the lack of express need. Yet, both telcos are adopting separate strategies, with Airtel battling to protect its share against competition from Jio in this price-sensitive but large market.

Reliance Industries is offering a 4G VoLTE feature phone locked in with a Jio SIM, and effectively free of tariffs – a Rs1,500 deposit is returned to the user after three years.

A monthly subscription fee of Rs153 will ensure unlimited voice and data, allowing access to the Internet and pre-loaded Jio apps, including live TV, cinema, music, Facebook, YouTube, and WhatsApp.

Sources say that RIL could well launch more than one model of the 4G feature phone at attractive price points, adding that these devices could be introduced alongside the staple JioPhone, for which prebookings begin from August 24. The JioPhone hits the market in September.

Airtel, however, is betting that its low-cost 4G smartphone will provide a better consumer experience through a larger screen, better camera and battery, besides access to all apps on the Google Play store that has a much wider apps ecosystem.

“If true, Airtel’s strategy has the potential to disrupt the market because at the moment, there isn’t a 4G smartphone with good specs at Rs2,500,” said Tarun Pathak, associate director at Hong Kong-based Counterpoint Research.

Bundled plans with such a 4G smartphone would make a lot of difference as they will act as incentives for a consumer in a market where the average selling price of a 4G smart phone is Rs11,000, said Faisal Kawoosa, senior analyst at Cybermedia Research.

Airtel’s 4G device offers freedom to use any operator while the VoLTE feature phones of JioPhone are closed loop with no option for other operators.

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