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Mobile phone manufacturing plays spoiler

In 2014, India's handset production more than halved from the previous year to 58 million

Surajeet Das Gupta  |  New Delhi 

mobile phone

At a time when India is pushing its domestic manufacturing through Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'Make in India' pitch - and going the extra mile to promote the programme at the Davos summit - the sorry state of mobile handset production in the country could be a major concern.

Domestic manufacturing of mobile phones has lately hit a new record low, and so have exports, mainly because of labour issues at Nokia's Chennai factory and, eventually, the plant's closure towards the end of 2014.

That India's mobile handset production dropped by a little more than half in calendar year 2014 - to 58 million units from 130 million a year earlier - seems to suggest the country's mobile manufacturing story was largely pegged on a single company.

From the demand perspective, India-manufactured devices' share declined to 16 per cent of total in 2014 from 23.47 per cent the previous year. The fact that all home-grown mobile companies, such as Micromax, Karbonn and Lava, merely import handsets from China and Taiwan seems to explain this drop in the share of domestically produced phones.

Besides, the hope spawned by Nokia that India could become a base for mobile device exports to the developing world, especially at the lower end of the market, appears to have disappeared. Export of mobile phones from India saw a massive drop in 2014 - to 14 million from 72.5 million a year earlier - according to figures made available by the Indian Cellular Association, which represents the mobile devices industry.

Given that the overall consumption of mobile phones in the country is rising, the imports have seen a sharp increase.

Indians purchased a little more than 270 million handsets during the year - 225 million of those were imported ones - paying over Rs 75,000 crore. In 2013, they had bought 245 million units by shelling out Rs 58,550 crore. Mobile handset imports in 2014 were up 20 per cent over those in 2013. There are hopes that Modi's 'Make in India' campaign will lead to a turnaround. But that does not seem likely in 2015 - despite some domestic players announcing their plans to set up manufacturing facilities in the country, and the government setting up a task force to incentivise domestic manufacturing of handsets.

If ICA projections are to be believed, the situation will only worsen. The body expects India's exports of mobile handsets to hit zero in 2015, and domestic production to fall to 46 million. Imports, meanwhile, are estimated to go up by 15 per cent to 259 million; and the foreign exchange bill could hit Rs 75,750 crore. A silver lining for the sector, though, is seen in Indians trading up their phones. This is reflected in the fact that the average sale price of mobile phones sold in the country has risen to Rs 2,778, 19 per cent higher than that in 2013.

First Published: Thu, January 22 2015. 00:57 IST