India's Smartphone Battlezone

With the launch of eight smartphones in the past 10 days, India's device ecosystem is at last gearing up for the widespread arrival of 3G services. (See Bids Flood In for India's Spectrum Auctions and Indian Handset Firms Grab Market Share.)

Already in the past few days, Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications has launched five handsets in the Xperia 10 and Vivaz ranges, with prices from 25,695 to 35,795 Indian Rupees (US$570.17 to $794.30), while Spice Mobile launched its S-1200, which has a 12-megapixel camera and retails at INR14,500 ($321.83).

In addition, Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) unveiled its Android-based Milestone device, which costs INR32,990 ($732.05), while major mobile operators Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL) and Vodafone India have announced plans to introduce the Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPhone 3GS into the Indian market.

Bharti says it's already preparing for the launch of 3G services, even though the spectrum auction is still a few weeks away. "Our network is ready, and once the bidding is complete, we would be able to launch the services within six-to-eight months," stated the operator's CEO, Sanjay Kapoor, at a press conference.

In contrast, market leader Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) has been conspicuous by its silence.

Then today, High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC) (Taiwan: 2498) further ignited the market by launching its Smart device in collaboration with Bharti Airtel and Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM). (See Bharti Brings HTC Smart to India.)

HTC's Smart, the first commercial 3G device based on Qualcomm's BREW mobile operating platform, offers "easy-to-use widgets, browsing and connectivity at an affordable price," according to HTC. The price? It starts at INR9,990 ($221.86), though local taxes might apply depending on where the phone is sold.

The launch is significant because, although 3G-enabled handsets are already available at less than INR5,000 ($110.95), this is the first sub-INR10,000 smartphone in India.

The smartphone category is emerging as the new battleground for supremacy in the Indian handset market. According to IDC , smartphone shipments in India hit 480,000 during the third quarter of 2009, and that volume is set to rise as prices fall, more models enter the market, and 3G services are launched.

The coming weeks and months look set to see further launches, and some cut-throat price competition, as the operators and handset makers look to capture market share.

— Gagandeep Kaur, India Editor, Light Reading

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