Cheap 4G feature phones from Jio, Micromax and Lava is a blessing for rural India

Feature phones continue to dominate the market with a more than 55 per cent share.

 |  3-minute read |   02-05-2017
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In November last year, Reliance Jio had talked about plans to introduce a feature phone with 4G capabilities for just Rs 1,000. According to reports, this feature phone (a mobile phone that incorporates features such as the ability to access the internet and store and play music, but lacks the advanced functionality of a smartphone) would have integrated voice and video calling. The phone would reportedly run on Android and will have a keyboard and a front facing camera, but would lack a touch screen. 

Well, that promise is now all set to come true.

According to Spreadtrum - a company that makes mobile phone processors - there are technologies that can make a cheap 4G phone viable.

"We are working on a technology that makes a Rs 1,500 4G feature phone viable. We have already started concept promotions to our partners," said Spreadtrum country head Neeraj Sharma to the Economic Times

But Jio is not the only company working on making 4G-enabled feature phones.

Micromax too is working on a phone called Bharat 1, which will support 4G. While the Jio phone is now estimated tbe priced around Rs 1,500, Bharat 1 will be available for Rs 1,999. But the lead has been taken by Lava. Launched around a month ago, the Lava Connect M1 has been touted as India's first 4G feature phone.

feature_050217035833.jpgPhoto: Motorola

According to Lava, this phone is perfect to "make crystal clear calls, stream live videos, listen to latest music and make payments online with 4G."

Even though the Connect M1 is costlier than the proposed Jio and Micromax phones combined, at Rs 3,599, it isn’t exactly a bad deal.

Feature phones, especially the ones that are aimed towards helping consumers utilise 4G and mobile data are definitely a good idea.

According a report in the Economic Times, feature phones continue dominating the market with a more than 55 per cent share. This is because people in small towns and rural areas have little need for or money to buy smartphones. 

Additionally, according to a study conducted by the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) and Kantar IMRB, almost 85 per cent feature phone users do not intend to switch to smartphones on their next purchase.

According to Preeti Desai, the country manager of MMA, "India is still an anomaly compared to other markets when it comes to basic phones. As per our study, 75 per cent of feature phone users were from upper SECs (socio-economic classification) - middle-class section of the society, unlike popular belief that these phones are used only by rural sections. 

Feature phones with VoLTE services, therefore, seem like the best step forwards towards encouraging more and more people to move towards mobile internet, which is essential for achieving Digital India.

While Jio seems to have won over a sizable chunk of the urban population with its attractive 4G plans, the lack of cheaper 4G enabled smartphones is a big hindrance to Jio’s penetration into the rural market. According to an IAMAI report, India is expected to have 420 million mobile Internet users by June this year, of which 170 million would be in rural parts of the country.

With a cheap 4G-enabled feature phone, Jio can easily take the lead in expanding into a hitherto untapped market.

Also read - Thanks to Jio, TRAI may just put an end to all freebies for new operators

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