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More mobile phone companies are gearing up to launch affordable 4G feature phone by the year-end, anticipating a pick-up in demand following Jio's foray into the space, a top official of 4G chipset firm Spreadtrum said. "We are in talks with four-five players for launching phones (on Spreadtrum chipset). We expect they will be launching in the fourth quarter," Spreadtrum Communications Country Head Neeraj Sharma told PTI. The company is also one of the suppliers of chipsets for JioPhone, a 4G feature phone by Reliance Jio. Home-grown mobile firm Lava has already launched a 4G feature phone using Spreadtrum chipset. Another mobile phone firm Intex has plans to launch 4G feature phone for Rs 1,999 by end of this month but it will use Mediatek chipset. "In India, still a large population is using feature phones which are primarily on 2G. With the arrival of Reliance (Jio) which is a greenfield LTE only network, it makes sense for companies to launch 4G feature phone as there will be customers who are feature phone users but would like to use Reliance as their preferred choice of operator," Sharma said. Industry sources, who did not wish to be identified, said while some JioPhones will have chipset from Qualcomm, others will come with Spreadtrum chipsets. RIL Chairman and MD Mukesh Ambani recently launched JioPhone, a 4G feature phone at a one-time fully refundable deposit of Rs 1,500 per unit. Jio is slated to beta-test the low-cost phone from August 15.
The booking will start from September 24 online as well as through Reliance Retail and Jio stores. When asked about the price point at which other players will sell their 4G feature phones, Sharma said that cannot be estimated at present because it will depend on marketing strategy of the companies. He, however, said the bill of material or total cost of components that will be used for making the 4G feature phone will be in the range of Rs USD 20-30 (about Rs 1,200-2,000) per unit. "We are working with Reliance Jio as technology partner. They have announced that JioPhone will have Wi-Fi and at the end of the year it will also come with NFC (near-field communications). The final price will depend on companies' decision if they are willing to add these features," Sharma said. He said the Spreadtrum chipset for 4G feature phone comes with 1.2GHz dual-core processor, 3D graphics support, up to 5 megapixel of front and rear camera and 16 gigabyte of internal storage. Indian Cellular Association National President Pankaj Mohindroo said there are about 450-500 million feature phone users in India with 130-140 million feature phones getting sold every year. "In urban centres, 2G is highly spectrum inefficient. This phenomenon (launch of 4G feature phones) will be good in urban area but Rs 1,500 is very expensive for bottom of the pyramid. The package (in case of Jio) is very attractive so some of the them may like to experiment with it," he said. Mohindroo said besides 4G feature phone, some companies may launch 4G smartphones in low range. Hit by aggressive strategy of Reliance Jio and to counter impact of JioPhone, Idea Cellular top officials in its earnings call had said the company is working with handset makers to bring down the cost of handsets. At present, Reliance Retail sells entry level 4G smartphone for Rs 2,999 a unit.
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