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Chinese firms muscle in on India's smartphones biz

Arnab Dutta  |  New Delhi 

The Chinese are generally described as focused, hard working and quick to seize an opportunity. This does seem so in the Indian smartphone market.

From four to five per cent a few years ago, cumulatively leading Chinese smartphone brands now corner a fifth of the domestic market. These include names such as Lenovo, Xiaomi, Gionee, Vivo and Huawei, among others.

In fact, Chinese smartphone brands today are ranked third, after Indian and South Korean brands, in terms of share (see chart). Experts say Indian brands such as Intex, Micromax, Karbonn and Lava have a third of the market, while Korean brands such as Samsung and LG corner about a quarter.

Many of the Chinese brands have come from seemingly nowhere, to gain the attention of the Indian consumer. Faisal Kawoosa, general manager, telecom & semitronics, CyberMedia Research, ascribes this to their ingenuity. "Chinese brands have used the online media cleverly and effectively. By holding less inventory, they have managed to keep costs under control. At the same time, they have created the necessary hype and recognition around their brands, with the right associations and partnerships, in a competitive market."

Niel Shah, analyst at Counterpoint Technology Market Research, says some Chinese brands are also third-party manufacturers of mobile phones, giving them the scale in terms of operations.

Chinese firms muscle in on India's smartphones biz
One reason why mobile phone manufacturing was not undertaken for long in India is because of this well-oiled system in China. Both Indian and Chinese brands took advantage of it to keep a tight leash on costs. While the 'Made in China' tag continues to be dominant as far as handsets in India go, things are beginning to change. Both Chinese and Indian mobile phone are investing in manufacturing in India as the government incentivises them to do so.

"Production lines have already been set up by them in their home market. They have invested in terms of technology and research & Development over the years. All of they have to do is ship these phones to the Indian market," Shah says.

For instance, Chinese handset maker Vivo inaugurated its first factory at Greater Noida, near Delhi, last month. It was the first Chinese company to do so, ahead of brands such Lenovo, Xiaomi, Gionee, Asus, OnePlus and Coolpad, which have all said they will do so similarly.

Indian smartphone entities that have said they will begin manufacturing in India include Micromax, Karbonn, Lava and Celkon.

Like Indian brands, Chinese ones are also becoming significant investors of marketing and branding properties, to ensure the recall factor remains high among Indian consumers. Vivo recently emerged the title sponsor of the Indian Premier League cricket tournament when there were prominent advertisers in the race. Gionee and Oppo have sponsored big television events and shows on Hindi general entertainment channels, pipping big names at the post.

First Published: Tue, January 05 2016. 00:36 IST