Smartphone sales are set to explode in India

With Android phones getting cheaper, a smartphone explosion is in the offing.

For years, India was Nokia country. Other phone makers promised and some even tried very hard to dethrone Nokia from the top spot, but failed. The Finnish company has even regained some of the market share it had lost, thanks to its recent - and belated - launch of dual-SIM devices, which in turn has put a lot of pressure on the 'Made In China, Branded in India' phone sellers.

But while Nokia is still the dominant manufacturer in India, it is staring down the barrel when it comes to the smartphone segment. Everywhere you look, people are carrying Android devices, and things are only going to get worse for Nokia. India's telecom market is unique. Talk to analysts and retailers and they point out that India is one of the few markets in the world where people are actually paying a bit more every month for their phones. Make no mistake: the availability of cheaper handsets played a critical role in India's mobile subscriber growth. But users also want to upgrade - just ask any young person.

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Kushan Mitra
Kushan Mitra
And upgrades have never before been so affordable, thanks to Android. This Google-developed operating system is free and open. All manufacturers need to do is sign an agreement with Google and they can offer applications through the official Android market, as well as Google's official applications for services such as Gmail and Gtalk. Many of them have signed up. There are naturally very few 'unofficial' Android devices available from recognised manufacturers.

Things are going to get even more interesting in the Android space, if a recent event was any indication. The chipmaker Qualcomm recently organised a major event at a Delhi hotel, and while they showcased some USB dongles and spoke of some application developers, the most surprising thing was that almost every single consumer device showcased ran Android. And there were close to 100 devices.

Again, thanks to Chinese manufacturers, in this case ZTE and Huawei, Android smartphones were being showcased for as little as Rs 5,000. These were not three-month old, out-of-fashion devices; these were yet to be launched phones. Not all phones that run on Android are equal. Samsung's Galaxy S2 is eons ahead of most Android smartphones. But it will soon be possible to do almost everything that the S2 can on Vodafone's forthcoming white-label Android smartphone - quite unimaginatively titled 'Smart' - which will cost a quarter of the price of the S2 or around Rs 7,000. And MTS has taken prices even lower with two devices the MTAG and Livewire, which are priced at around Rs 5,000.

Sure, these will be slightly slower than the S2. They will have smaller screens with not such great resolution. But they might well mark an inflection point in India, the point at which smartphone sales explode. Any such explosion will inevitably raise many issues, including the need for much more spectrum.

But an information revolution is on the cards and it is set to transform this country.