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A digital phone for the rest of India

A   CMR whitepaper suggests that  a 'lite' version of Android Oreo,  rather than  4G VoLTE,  should fuel entry level feature  phones. This may  trigger an industry debate and pit Reliance  against  the rest

August 24 2017:   A day before Reliance  Industries' much hyped  JioPhone for the masses  is opened for booking ( at 5 pm on August 24),  a study by tech analyst CyberMediaResearch (CMR) suggests that  its  underlying  4G VoLTE  technology is not the best forfueling feature phones.  Instead, the study  says Indian  mobile phone industry should adapt the recently  announced  'lite' version of the new Android 8 "Oreo" operating system.
The study says: "Jio ( aims)  to bring the huge base of 400 million subscribers on a digital pathway.  However, it may not be the best solution in the long run and would not result in revenue growth for operators.  For the incumbent operators, VoLTE 4G FeaturePhones would not even add to the subscriber numbers."
It advocates "a better alternative in the form of a Smartphone based on Android Go – Google’s optimized platform for low configuration devices."
The  study  is detailed in a CMR Whitepaper  entitled Android Go -The Way Forward For Digital India". It examines the pros and cons of a 4G Feature Phone. At present, there are an estimated 350 million Smartphone users in India and another 400 million Feature Phone users. All operators target the 400 million users of basic phones and would like to see them migrate to faster data services. But  the average selling price of a feature phone is Rs 1250 compared to over Rs 11,000 for a smartphone  -- and this is an unbridgeable gap.
The Reliance Jio solution  is to bring 4G Voice over LTE to the JioPhone which can, can make voice calls using VoLTE and at the same time has some apps preinstalled -- like  Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp.  It will give feature phone users the same fast speed of smart phone users and also the benefit of  popular apps.
However the whitepaper argues that this approach makes compromises:  it may give monopoly status to certain apps;  the need to keep the cost down will  limit screen size, resolution, sound etc and above all, being a non-touch device will deny buyers,  one of the main attractions of a smart phone.
The study touts the advantage of Android Go, a  new effort by Google to launch budget-friendly Android smartphones for developing markets.Go will basically be a lightweight version of the upcoming Android 8 Oreo, but designed to run on smartphones that have 1 GB, or even 512 MB,  of RAM.  The Google Play Store will also be optimized to run on the lower-end hardware.One example of such an app is  YouTube Go. 
In other words, Android Go will allow  manufacturers to create a smart phone with touch at   -- almost -- feature phone prices.
The study concludes: "This Smartphone category based on Android Go, could eventually be called a Digital Phone, where the focus is not on the device type but on the capabilities and functions without any compromise on the user experience."
However this will require intense  cooperation between, chip makers like Qualcomm and MediaTek, service providers, device manufacturers  and Google. It is a moot point if this is a realistic expectation. Also the study seems to  pit 4G VoLTE against  Google Go. One is a  standard for cellular  communication. The other is an operating system. Apples and Oranges? 
Today, Reliance has first mover advantage. It remains to be seen if other operators go the same 4G VoLTE route for feature phones -- or explore  other options as suggested by this study.




    


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