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RIL BWA to come with low-cost tablet

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Call it an Infocomm redux, with a twist. On the back of its proposed telecom re-entry strategy, ’s Ltd (RIL) is now going after the tablet PC market, presently dominated by and at the premium end.

Reliance Industries’ subsidiary, , is expected to launch broadband wireless access (BWA) services with low-cost tablet PCs and affordable data plans in the next five months, said industry officials aware of the developments. They say Infotel has zeroed on seven-inch and 10–inch Android-based media tablets (touchscreen PCs), with prices starting at Rs 8,000 and data plans expected to start at as low as Rs 1,000 for three to six months, which should help in fast proliferation of these tablet PCs.

“Reliance Infotel is the only company with a pan-India licence to launch BWA services and the company has indicated its intentions to use long-term evolution (LTE) technology that offers data speeds from 50 mbps to 100 mbps to customers. This makes way for data-bundled media tablets that are meant for browsing and emails,” said sources.

In the past, Infocomm had tried such “bundling” of services when it floated its plans to set up manufacturing set-ups in India for handsets that were to be sold with its telecom services.

Infotel has signed two-year supply contracts with four (OEMs) based in China and Taiwan, said to include names like Huawei, Samsung and Alcatel. Samsung is also a player in the tablet PC market, while doubling as an OEM.

Vendors that Business Standard spoke to confirmed RIL was looking to source around 4,000-5,000 units per month, which could begin as early as next month.

“Reliance Infotel’s tablets, expected to run on Android and Java-based operating systems for entry-level models, will be rich in custom-made applications that will enable tier-2, tier-3 city youth to experience the Internet,” said an analyst following the development. Sources said Reliance Infotel would also launch handsets using LTE (Long Term Evolution) technology for data and voice services.

An announcement about Reliance Infotel’s foray into tablet launch is expected to be made after the Mobile World Congress, the biggest telecom exhibition in Barcelona that began yesterday. An email to the Reliance Infotel spokesperson elicited this response: “As a policy, we do not comment on speculation.”

Price & apps
The tablet PC market is at a very nascent stage in India, pegged at less than a million units annually, but analysts believe a low-cost tablet PC bundled with cheap data plans can turn this equation around. Analysts noted that while India remains a price-conscious market, it is lack of content that obstructs tablet PC penetration.

“Since Reliance is said to be working on the Android platform, it already has thousands of apps ready to be consumed on its tablets and customised application for Indian users can be easily developed, too,” said the analyst.

RIL had paid Rs 4,800 crore for acquiring a 95 per cent stake in Infotel, a company floated by the HFCL group under Mahendra Nahata.

Infotel has also paid Rs 12,848 crore to the government towards spectrum fees, when it won pan-India spectrum in the auction of broadband wireless access (BWA) last year.

Last year, RIL and Ericsson conducted LTE trials at Reliance Corporate Park in Navi Mumbai, clocking downlink rates of 80 mbps & 20 mbps in uplink, along with applications such as HD multimedia streaming, live TV and on-the-move speeds of 50 and 70 kmph.

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