Micromax Informatics is betting on a cheap feature phone that supports 4G VoLTE calls to revive its fortunes after getting pushed to the wall by aggressive Chinese rivals.
The feature is otherwise available only on smartphones and Micromax is hoping to ride demand generated by Reliance Jio Infocomm’s offer of free voice for life.
India’s second-largest handset company till recently, Micromax has slumped to five in the overall rankings, and out of the top five in smartphones. It’s looking to price the feature phone at well under Rs 2,500 and will also launch a 4G VoLTE smartphone at under $50 (Rs 3,300) that may also have an integrated digital payments feature to regain market share on the back of volumes, two people aware of the matter said.
With bundling, the cost of the 4G VoLTE feature phone could drop substantially, even to zero, one of the two said. The company plans to launch the feature phone and the smartphone, likely to be called Bharat One and Bharat Two, early next month, the people said.
“While the VoLTE feature phone could lead to operator tie-ups to push the category and acceptance, the smartphone may have a back-end tie-up with Transerv and MVisa that could enable digital payments,” one of the two said.
The other person said that while talks are on with all major operators, Jio is the only one with a full VoLTE network that’s up and running. The other carriers are still doing trials.
Micromax declined to comment, while Jio didn’t respond to emailed queries.
The Indian handset maker’s moves come on the back of a slow 2016 during which it barely launched any models. It rejigged operations, the supply chain and manufacturing amid heightened competition due to the entry of Chinese brands. But addressing a price segment under $50, which accounts for most of the devices sold in India, could help propel it back into the reckoning for the top spot, analysts said.
A 4G VoLTE feature phone will take Micromax into the territory of Reliance Digital, which is planning similar devices costing between Rs 999 and Rs 1,500 that could hit the market later this month or early next. Reliance Digital is also owned by Jio’s parent Reliance Industries. Micromax’s 4G Volte feature phone will have touch-and-type capability but won’t run on the Android OS. It will be targeted at people who do not want to move from feature phones but seek to access basic services that may require an internet connection.
Of the total $17 billion phone market, feature phones account for $2 billion and smartphones for $15 billion, on wholesale price basis, as per Counterpoint Research data.
While including fingerprint and iris-scanning abilities in low-cost smartphones would add more value to the government-backed digital payments programme, experts said that adding such features will increase device cost, defeating the purpose of making mobile-based payments more affordable to users across the economic spectrum.