After Airtel Chairman, Google India chief wants cheaper phones

Airtel's Sunil Mittal and Google India's Venkatesh Anandan want cheaper smartphones in India.
Written by Manan Kakkar, Contributor

When the chairman of India's leading telecom operator says we need cheaper smartphones, people tend to take note. At the recently concluded Mobile World Congress, Bharti Airtel's Sunil Mittal made a case for phone manufacturers to come up with phones bulk at low prices. While Sunil Mittal wanting cheaper phones is a good thing and means more Indians will own better phones, I believe Airtel has a lot to gain if more people use smartphones. Back in 2011, Mittal suggested that call tariffs are expected to go up; the reason as explained in a Business Line report by Thomas K Thomas is, offsetting the low returns from significant investments in rural India. As more users buy smartphones, more people will opt for value added services, and carriers have more users to target with services.

Speaking at MWC 2012, Sunil Mittal suggested that developing nations offer handset manufacturers contracts for as high as 100 Million handsets for phones at prices as low as $50. Theoretically a good suggestion but a scam I foresee. According to statistics, only 5% of India's mobile handset user base has smartphones. Google India's chief—Ranjan Anandan—is more specific and see over 200 Million smart phone users by 2015. He too, like Mittal, wants handset prices to go down. According to Anandan, the 200 Million can be reached provided there are smartphone handsets available below $100. In a quote to Business Line's Venkatash Ganesh, Anandan said, "We are optimistic about India's smartphone penetration hitting the 200-million mark by 2015 but feel that prices have to be sub-Rs 5,000 for more smartphone penetration."

Google's Nexus range is a benchmark device for handset manufacturers and as such if Google wants cheaper phones that offer a good user experience, it'd be great to see a $100 Nexus device. Microsoft with their Nokia partnership hopes to launch cheaper phones offering a consisten user experience at par with their high-end phones with a few compromises. The Indian handset market has no clear winner as of now with Nokia's dominance under threat and Samsung being a distant second.

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