How will a 4G feature phone change things? The Economic Times reported last year that Reliance Jio is preparing to launch a 4G feature phone, priced at Rs 1000, and possibly being launched with unlimited voice and data. It had reported that Reliance Jio is working with Lava and Chinese OEMs to manufacture such phones. Feature phones lack the processing power of a smartphone, and thus lack significant Internet access features and the ability to run heavy apps, but do still have basic Internet access features. An example of a feature phone with significant Internet access features was the now-discontinued Nokia Asha series, which also came with Whatsapp. The Nokia 210 even had a dedicated Whatsapp button, although these typically ran on 2G networks.
When asked about this 4G feature phone, Airtel India CEO & MD Gopal Vittal said that “our understanding is that something is in the works and could potentially get launched sometime between April and June.” Not that Airtel is launching it, though.
Vittal believes that the “landed cost of this device into India, post duties and so on and so forth, would be in the ballpark of Rs.2000 to Rs.2200, which will therefore make it a very, very affordable phone, as an up-gradation from a basic feature phone. Now, you must remember that feature phones are sold at Rs 1000 to Rs 1200. And there is a big difference between a Rs 1000, Rs 1200 and a Rs 2200 phone even in a market like India.”
“So there will be feature phones that will continue to get sold, unless there is some form of subsidy on those devices, which we believe will not make for economic sense, because of the nature of the dual-simming and the nature of the flirting that customers have with the best deals at that end of the market.”
India is a multi-SIM market, with especially lower ARPU customers keeping multiple SIM cards, using different plans from different telecom operators for specific purposes. For example, some might use a particular SIM+plan combination for calls within a circle, while they might use a different SIM for calling users in another circle. This led to the proliferation of low-cost handsets which allow multiple SIM cards, and the introduction of companies such as Micromax, Lava, Karbonn, among several others, which tapped this opportunity.
However, Vittal was cautious about the potential demand for such phones: “…as you strip the cost of this device down, the screen of the device, and the overall experience is a very basic experience and so this is not likely to appeal to serious customers who would use data. This is only likely to appeal to somebody who would like voice on the cheap. And, therefore, this is an issue then of what the pricing is on voice and what the package is on voice that is delivered on that device.”