Vinod Lall (43), a grocer in east Delhi’s Lakshmi Nagar, needed to buy two fully loaded mobile phones but he wasn’t sure his budget of Rs 10,000 would suffice.
Lall spent an hour browsing the shops in central Delhi’s underground Palika Market, and found two winners — a Karbonn handset for Rs 5,000 and a Micromax mobile phone for Rs 4,600.
“They have the latest features, are cheap and have warranty,” said Lall. “This is the best I could get.”
Karbonn and Micromax are just two of the several Indian brands that are slowly finding a space on shelves of mobile phone shops across the country. Maxx, Lava, Intex, Movil, Mi-Fone and Olive are some of the other brands.
Not much is known about these brands and the companies that own them. Their presence in the market is still poor. For instance, Karbonn mobile has only five company-owned retail outlets countrywide.
Their visibility is largely restricted to TV channels, especially during the telecast of sports events — the latest being the IPL series. Each of these brands boasts of certain unique features such as dual SIM for people who carry multiple phones, long-life battery for areas where power outages are frequent and signal boosters when connectivity turns poor.
These features, the Indian companies hope, will help them gain a foothold in a market dominated by multinationals such as Nokia, Samsung, Motorola and Sony-Ericsson.
“It’s difficult for multinationals to tweak their phones for Indian conditions. But we make products exclusively for the Indian market and that’s where we score,” said Kunal Ahuja, director and chief operating officer, Spice Mobile.
The Indian market is getting bigger as well.
“It’s worth Rs 30,000 crore and will grow to Rs 35,000 crore by 2011, which means there is plenty of space for newcomers,” said Pankaj Mohindroo, president, Indian Cellular Association.
Approximately, 130 million handsets are sold annually in India and this number is predicted to climb to 150 million by 2011, he said.
Also, “the new players are looking to grab 15-20 per cent of market share that previously belonged to Chinese and Korean phones,” Mohindroo said.
These phones were banned last year, because they didn’t have a legitimate International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, which is mandatory and helps in blocking and tracking a phone.
The target group for Indian brands mainly comprises young buyers. That’s why Karbonn and Maxx have tied up with IPL 2010 and Micromax sponsored the India-South Africa ODI series earlier this year.
Maxx has also chosen Indian cricket captain M.S. Dhoni to endorse the brand. Not to be left behind, Micromax and Spice Mobile have roped in Bollywood stars Akshay Kumar and Sonam Kapoor as brand ambassadors.
Besides attracting the youth, these companies are looking to expand in rural areas and in smaller towns.
“The low-end market, especially rural India, is yet to be explored,” said Romal Shetty, head of telecommunications with consulting firm KPMG. “These companies are looking at the 500 million subscribers yet to be connected.”
The rural consumer also has aspirations now.
“All consumers are now equally demanding and expect value for money with latest trends,” said Sudhir Hasija, chairman, Karbonn Mobile, which sold 5 million handsets in just one year.
But it’s too early to predict the future of these companies.
Established brands claim they are much ahead in after-sales service and innovation.
“We provide easy to use, feature-rich products and have unparalleled after-sales,” said Ambrish Bakaya, director, corporate affairs, Nokia India.
The new companies, too, are aware of their handicap. “In the longer term pricing and features are less important than innovation and services,” said Ahuja.