A 5G Phone for Rs 10,000? Indian makers are almost there

19th June 2023
A 5G Phone for Rs 10,000?   Indian makers are almost there
A 5G Phone for the Other India. Photo Credit_ Deloitte

 By Anand Parthasarathy
June 19, 2023: Every week, we hear boastful announcements by India’s leading telecom service providers about the speed  with which they are  covering the country with their 5G phone and data services. Less in-your-face, but nevertheless ubiquitous,  especially in online and in-store  placements, are announcements of the next new 5G handset  launched in the country
But for whom?
Almost all the 5G phones are priced Rs 20,000 and more, going up to nearly Rs 1 lakh. The bulk of the big brands are bunched in the Rs 30,000 – Rs 50,000 price band
What about the other India, the one the media has dubbed Bharat? These are vast rural reaches where, for millions. a Lakshman Rekha of affordability operates,  that is centered around Rs 10,000, give or take a thousand. 
What is the point of touting the promise of accelerated  digital empowerment triggered by 5G services,  when so many of the most needful of such services, cannot afford the price of a 5G phone? Nobody is talking or doing anything practical about this untapped market. Not the government, not the phone manufacturers, not the service providers.
But is it doable – a 5G phone for Rs 10,000?
Six months ago in a one of a series of  Insights for  tech trends in 2023, global analyst  and market monitor, Deloitte,  made a bold prediction
“Deloitte Global predicts that 2023 will see the launch of the first 5G smartphones retailing at US$99 or its equivalent in other currencies. These phones will likely represent a very small share of 2023 smartphone sales, but they should eventually make 5G accessible to almost all consumers in almost all markets, accelerating 5G’s adoption around the world.
A phone costing less than a hundred dollars ( which hovers around Rs 8,100 – Rs 8,200 in Indian currency  right now)    is close enough to our  target of Rs 10,000  for the  subsequent  reasoning  to remain relevant in India.
The $ 99 5G phone
To achieve a selling price of $ 99  which means a total bill of materials  (BoM) of around $ 87, the relevant edition of  Deloitte Insights,  suggests  that  such a 5G phone would have “notably different components: a low-end display, a single-lens camera, a low-power processor, and modest storage capacity.” 
Deloitte argues that while such a pared-down phone might not provide the heightened video download and viewing experience which is the gee-whizz aspect of 5G: “It’s about unlocking value by providing world-class connectivity to millions who might not currently have it, for work, education, or recreation.”
But there’s the rub: The potential buyer  of such a  basic 5G phone already  used to having two cameras front and rear,  on a 4G phone and sufficient storage for  downloading movies and music, is hardly likely to settle for less.
This is where sound market savvy comes in – and Indian manufacturers of mobile phones have shown that they have it in abundance. Which is why in October 2022, when an Indian maker, announced the availability of the Lava Blaze 5G at an incredible Rs 9,999, the phone  sacrificed very little – specification-wise --  and was all the more remarkable for it.
An affordable Indian 5G phone
Today the same phone – as far as I can determine – remains one of the  cheapest 5G smartphones “made in India”, even though the current asking price is a thousand rupees more at Rs 10,999. I am not  sticking my neck out and saying it is the cheapest because  new 5G phones are being offered every week
The Lava Blaze 5G comes with a 6.5 inch High Definition screen,  4 GB of RAM; 128 GB of storage, expandable with  micro SD cards to 1 terabyte or 1000 gigabytes; dual SIM slots; a 5000 mAh battery; a 50 Megapixel triple lens rear camera, an 8 MP selfie camera – and a clean  version of Android 12 (admittedly  some 2023 phones have moved to Android 13). It means this edition of the operating  system has just the full  set of apps as supplied by Android, with no bloated and space-consuming extras  added by the manufacturer.
There is another edition of Lava Blaze 5G with 6 GB rather than 4 GB of RAM which will slightly quicken operations. This costs Rs 11,999.  All other specifications are identical and both editions come with features like fingerprint and face scan options for securing the handset.
I have been curious about what the experience with the most affordable phone 5G in India would be like -- and until today, a search on the sites of popular ecommerce sites did not turn up any other handset than the Lava Blaze at this price.   I get misleading unsolicited marketing emails titled  “Top 5G smartphones starting at Rs 7599”  and the like.  None of the phones linked to the mail were 5G.
I decided to buy the 5G edition of Lava Blaze  and have been using it for a month now.  I am pleasantly surprised by the sturdy build, by the ease with which I could switch to the 5G service of both service providers whose SIMs I have—Jio and Airtel – and  by  the  lean and clean experience of an uncluttered Android. I am tired of spending a few days uninstalling a lot of extra apps and lock screens whenever I have tried out the most pricey handsets. The triple   rear camera -- at 50 MP -- is even better than the one on my admittedly older, though costlier,  4G phone.  And yes, unlike the Deloitte specs there is a secondary front camera
In short, Lava has got it right: no compromise on  the key  specifications which matter to Indians,  even those whose budgets placed a limit on how much they can afford even for a 5G phone.  I think its target buyer segment will rate it paisa vasool – the highest praise, the canny  and demanding ones among us can bestow.
New option
In recent weeks two other affordable 5G phones costing  just a little more than the Lava Blaze 5G , were on offer in India:  the Poco M4 5G and the Infinix Hot 20 5G
Both come with 4GB,RAM, 64 GB storage,  5000 mAh  battery, 50 Megapixel rear and 8 MP front cameras. The Poco sized 16.7 inches costs Rs 11,999 on Flipkart, the Infinix sized 6.6 inches costs Rs 11,499. Both run Android 12
Yes,  a 5G phone costing around  ten thousand rupees or so  can be delivered – and it has been done in India.
Here’s betting more will follow before the end of 2023.

For images for this article see Image of the Day section
This article has appeared in Swarajya