Indian Govt. to develop smartphone to push broadband

Subsidized phone to cost below $100.

By R. Chandrasekaran

CHENNAI: Despite having difficulty in making enough Aakash tablets to meet market demand, the Indian government is now eyeing a subsidized smartphone to give a big push to broadband penetration.

The government seems to firmly believe that only a smartphone can give a big scale access to broadband in a country where over 70 percent of telecom penetration level has been achieved.

Though Aakash tablet PC was the lowest priced one in the world due to government’s subsidy with a view to create an educational eco system, the response from the students have been mixed. However, it would have been a big success and help for students belonging to the middle income or lower income group, especially in the rural or semi-urban areas, if there were enough supply. Till now, there has been only one vendor.

The government plans to price the smartphones below $100 so that it is available to a wider section of the population.

During a meeting held on July 29th, members of the joint working group on broadband, which was co-chaired by the Confederation of Indian Industry’s telecom advisory cell head and former NASSCOM chief Kiran Karnik and the Secretary of the Department of Telecommunications (DOT) Rita Teotia, a proposal was reportedly discussed.

The government has set a target of 175 million broadband users by the turn of 2017 from the current level of 11 million. For this, Rs.210 billion National Fiber Optic Network (NOFN) is expected to go live in 2014. Therefore, the policy makers believe that NOFN connectivity will take Internet to neighborhoods quickly.

For reaching more neighborhoods, affordability to buy smartphone remains the challenge for broadband penetration. Therefore, the government is finding ways and means to lure largest handset manufacturer to see the possibility of making sub-$100 smartphones on a big scale. The DOT official is of the view that the makers will be allowed to have smartphones with pre-loaded latest entertainment apps apart from supporting mobile banking, education and telemedicine.

The former NASSCOM chief Karnik reportedly told The Economic Times, “A sub- $100 smartphone can be a major broadband driver, especially since large-scale penetration will have to be propelled by mobile phones.”

However, it remains to be seen whether the government will be able to make available enough smartphones for consumers.

To contact the author, email to rchandrasekaran@americanbazaaronline.com

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