India's Jio to Disrupt (Again) With Low-Cost 4G Phones

India's lack of a 4G devices ecosystem is driving 4G operator Reliance Jio and Indian device makers to come up with products geared to meet the needs of the domestic market.

Reliance Jio is believed to be working with a number of Indian device manufacturers, including Intex Technologies (India) Ltd. and Lava International Ltd. , to develop 4G feature phones that would cost between 1,000 Indian rupees ($14.6) and INR2,000 ($29.3) per device. The hope is this will attract entry-level customers from small towns and cities to the Jio network.

With most Indians still using feature phones, rather than costlier smartphones, the need for lower-cost 4G devices is pressing. Nearly two thirds of handsets in India's installed base falls into the feature phone category, although smartphone penetration is rising throughout the country.

"Jio doesn't have any voice fallback cellular technology, so it is important for the service provider to offer 4G devices at affordable prices," says Anshul Gupta, a research director at Gartner Inc. "Addressing just the smartphone market can be a limiting factor for them."

"Feature phone users are also primarily voice call users in India and with voice-over-LTE [VoLTE] the telco can increase the data consumption," adds Gupta. "As far as I know, 4G feature phones in this price range are not available in any other market."

Want to know more about 4G LTE? Check out our dedicated 4G LTE content channel here on Light Reading.

The low-cost devices could, therefore, be a game changer for Jio, helping the company to reach a short-term target of signing up 100 million subscribers. Currently, Jio claims to have 70 million customers, having launched commercial operations in September 2016. In a highly disruptive move, the operator is offering free voice services for life and free data for the first six months.

The 4G feature phones are likely to work on the Android operating system and include popular Internet services such as Facebook and WhatsApp. Heavily subsidized for the Indian consumer, they will in all likelihood also be loaded with Jio applications. Chip manufacturers, such as Spreadtrum Communications Inc. , look set to play a key role in device development.

— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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