After the launch of the Jio Phone, the market is expected to see an explosion of 4G VoLTE feature phones, with many brands expected to join the fray. While Lava with its 4G Connect M1, and Micromax's Bharat 1 were the 4G feature phones to be announced before the Jio Phone was unveiled at the Reliance AGM, Intex launched its Turbo+ 4G after the event. However, none of the aforementioned phones have hit the market yet, and even the Jio Phone bookings will start on August 24 only, while the beta trials start on August 15. Even Idea Cellular has revealed plans to launch a 4G feature phone of its own, with support for WhatsApp, Facebook, and other apps.
This is just the beginning though, as many more manufacturers are gearing up to launch 4G feature phones, as Spreadtrum has revealed it is in talks with 4-5 brands to launch Jio Phone rivals powered by its chip. Spreadtrum is one of the companies whose chips are used in the new Reliance Jio handset. The single-SIM Jio Phone works only on 4G VoLTE networks, and Jio has the only such network in the country at the moment, meaning the handset is exclusive to the company's own network.
"We are in talks with four-five players for launching phones (on Spreadtrum chipset). We expect they will be launching in the fourth quarter," Spreadtrum Communications Country Head Neeraj Sharma told PTI.
"In India, still a large population is using feature phones which are primarily on 2G. With the arrival of Reliance (Jio) which is a greenfield LTE only network, it makes sense for companies to launch 4G feature phone as there will be customers who are feature phone users but would like to use Reliance as their preferred choice of operator," Sharma said.
Industry sources, who did not wish to be identified, said while some Jio Phone will have chipset from Qualcomm, others will come with Spreadtrum chipsets.
RIL Chairman and MD Mukesh Ambani recently launched Jio Phone, a 4G feature phone at a one-time fully refundable deposit of Rs. 1,500 per unit.
Jio is slated to beta-test the low-cost phone from August 15. The booking will start from September 24 online as well as through Reliance Retail and Jio stores.
When asked about the price point at which other players will sell their 4G feature phones, Sharma said that cannot be estimated at present because it will depend on marketing strategy of the companies.
He, however, said the bill of material or total cost of components that will be used for making the 4G feature phone will be in the range of $20-30 (about Rs. 1,200-2,000) per unit.
"We are working with Reliance Jio as technology partner. They have announced that Jio Phone will have Wi-Fi and at the end of the year it will also come with NFC (near-field communications). The final price will depend on companies' decision if they are willing to add these features," Sharma said.
He said the Spreadtrum chipset for 4G feature phone comes with 1.2GHz dual-core processor, 3D graphics support, up to 5 megapixel of front and rear camera and 16 gigabyte of internal storage.
Indian Cellular Association National President Pankaj Mohindroo said there are about 450-500 million feature phone users in India with 130-140 million feature phones getting sold every year.
"In urban centres, 2G is highly spectrum inefficient. This phenomenon (launch of 4G feature phones) will be good in urban area but Rs. 1,500 is very expensive for bottom of the pyramid. The package (in case of Jio) is very attractive so some of the them may like to experiment with it," he said.
Mohindroo said besides 4G feature phone, some companies may launch 4G smartphones in low range.
Hit by aggressive strategy of Reliance Jio and to counter impact of Jio Phone, Idea Cellular top officials in its earnings call had said the company is working with handset makers to bring down the cost of handsets.
At present, Reliance Retail sells entry level 4G smartphone for Rs. 2,999 a unit.
The Jio Phone looks awesome but is there any catch? We discussed that on our weekly technology podcast Orbital, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS or just listen to this episode by hitting the play button below.