Leapfrogging: Smartphone majors showcase affordable 4G devices for India at MWC

As global players showcase 4G-enabled phones, homegrown firms will be under pressure to deliver the same.

Written by Nandagopal Rajan | Barcelona | Updated: March 6, 2015 6:46:36 am
Microsoft, Microsoft Lumia, Microsoft Lumia 640, Microsoft Lumia 640 XL, Mobile World Congress Microsoft Lumia’s 4G-enabled smartphone on display at the Mobile World Conference. (Source: Nandagopal Rajan)

If there was one clear trend that emerged amidst the melee of smartphone launches at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) held in Barcelona this week, it was the emergence of affordable 4G smartphones aimed primarily at the Indian market.

The trend began at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this January, where Lenovo’s senior vice president Colin Giles and Flipkart’s vice president Michael Adnani showed Indian journalists the new Lenovo A6000. Within a week, the 4G smartphone with a Qualcomm chipset was ready for online sales in India. The phone was priced at Rs 6,999, much below the already cheap Yu Yureka from Micromax co-founder Rahul Sharma and the Redmi Note from Chinese startup Xiaomi.

All big smartphone vendors want to stay relevant in the emerging 4G market in India. The general consensus is that when Indians upgrade from feature phones in the coming months they would prefer to buy a 4G device and future-proof them for the time when the high-speed mobile service becomes widespread in India. That might not be until the end of the year, but no one is taking chances.

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In Barcelona, there were a good number of 4G smartphones priced around the $100-mark. Sony was showcasing its Xperia E4g which would be headed for India soon at a price below Rs 10,000. Lenovo had its A7000 at the show with similar specs as the A6000, but with a larger screen, better audio capabilities and a different processor. Microsoft’s Lumia 640 and the larger Lumia 640 XL would also have high hopes from the Indian market.

Incidentally, there will be more companies entering the segment soon. Dragon Yin, president of Honor International Business, said he was confident of increasing the company’s market share by introducing affordable 4G smart phones in India.

According to the Cyber Media Research’s India Quarterly LTE (4G) Devices Market Review, 1.06 million units of LTE device where shipped in the last quarter of 2014. As many as 96 per cent of these were smartphones with Apple leading the list with 45 per cent market share followed by HTC at 19 per cent and Samsung at 16 per cent. But if 2014 was all about top-end smartphones with 4G compatibility, the new year will be about affordable devices.

HTC and Samsung will have a lot of devices that fit the bill, unlike Apple. In fact, in February, Samsung launched a bunch of 4G devices trying to cover almost all price segments. The company has been under pressure from the new Chinese entrants in the market and wants to regain ground with the new 4G devices. Even Taiwan’s Asus, which created ripples in the market with the reasonably priced, Asus Zenfone range, is upgrading the series to 4G this year. There is no doubt that homegrown brands like Micromax, Lava and Karbonn will be under pressure to bring in 4G devices before it is too long.

On the other hand, even in top-end devices companies like HTC want to ensure that they are compatible with the 4G bands in India. The HTC One M9, launched at MWC, will ship with FDD-LTE when it starts selling here in the coming weeks. Earlier, companies like Samsung would have a different version of top-end 4G phones for the Indian market. Chia-Lin Chang, HTC’s President of Global Sales and Chief Financial Officer, said they were bullish about the prospects of the M9 in India and suggested they had “special plans” for the Indian market around this model.

(The writer was in Barcelona on the invite of HTC)

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