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Indian handset makers now eye the world

Arunima Mishra  |  New Delhi 

After snatching 14 per cent of the Indian market from multinational corporations in less than two years, homespun mobile handset makers have now set their eyes on other emerging markets in Asia, Africa and South America. Thus, Micromax (the largest Indian handset brand with 4.1 per cent share of the market) has plans for neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal, whole of Africa, Brazil and also Russia. Spice Mobile (3.9 per cent share) has in its crosshairs the entire region from Indonesia to Israel. Karbonn (3 per cent share) wants to sell in Africa and South America. Lava, ten months old in the business, is ready to foray into South Asia, East Europe, Africa and South America. And so is MVL, the latest off the block.

To be sure, these are not small markets. Sector experts said many of these countries are at the same stage as India a few years ago — ready for take-off. Micromax Business Director Vikas Jain said that the African market is almost as big as India, around 10 million handsets a month. In addition, the number of service providers there is on the rise; this, the handset makers are convinced, will raise the demand for their products. About 3 million handsets are sold in Brazil every month. Bangladesh sells 500,000 handsets a month and Nepal around 120,000 a month. “In South Asia, countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh are thickly populated and there is also a surge in the subscriber base,” MVL Chairman Prem Adip Rishi said.

Their strategy for other emerging markets will be similar to that in India: Sell phones loaded with features at dirt-cheap prices. Micromax, for instance, sells smart phones at less than Rs 8,000, which is 33 per cent below multinational rivals. All Lava phones are priced below Rs 6,000. The company plans to introduce smart phones and Qwerty handsets within this price range. Most of them import in bulk from China, though application development and product design happens in India.

“We have chosen to penetrate these markets because our products with features like dual SIM and dual memory card, we thought, would be right for these emerging markets,” said Spice Mobile’s head of marketing, Naveen Paul. “We strongly feel that these markets are very similar in nature to the Indian market, and we perceive a huge opportunity. Given the similarity in socio-economic conditions, the consumer preferences in these markets are quite similar to those in India,” Karbonn Mobiles Executive Director Shashin Devsare added. “The youth in these markets have got a sporty attitude, and they want features that are beyond voice and text, and Lava handsets offer the same with in-house software,” said Lava International Co-founder and Director SN Rai.

But some of these markets could be different from India. “Brazil is technologically one step ahead of India, as 3G came to the country a year back. But it’s not advanced like Europe which is a 4G-market now,” said Jain. “The differentiator for Micromax will be its innovative product design.” The challenge that all Indian brands will have to crack is distribution. But if they can get their distribution network in place in a large country like India, there is hope that they will do it in other markets as well.

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First Published: Sun, June 27 2010. 00:45 IST