A fledgling Indian company unveiled on Wednesday what is being billed as the world’s cheapest smartphone with the Android-run device priced at a jaw-dropping Rs251, but analysts raised some concerns about the product, including a possible copyright infringement of Apple’s iconic iPhone.
Noida-based Ringing Bells Pvt Ltd— set up five months ago by Amity University graduate Mohit Kumar Goel, who goes by “Cutemohit” on Facebook— launched the Freedom 251 at a high-profile function attended by BJP veteran Murli Manohar Joshi.
Ringing Bells has called the handset “India’s most affordable smartphone” in full-page newspaper ads, pitching it as a huge push for the Narendra Modi government’s Make in India and Digital India initiatives.
Watch | Freedom 251, world’s ‘cheapest’ smartphone launched in India
But the launch in the Capital left many questions unanswered, including the absence of defence minister Manohar Parrikar who was expected to be the chief guest.
Mobile industry body ICA urged telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to scrutinise the price, saying it could not be below Rs 3,500 even after a subsidised sale.
Also, hardly anything is known about the Goel family promoting Ringing Bells, and IIT alumnus Ashok Chaddha who was omnipresent on stage at the launch.
Chaddha and Mohit Goel met Madhya Pradesh BJP MLA Om Prakash Saklecha early last year, saying they wanted to develop the country’s cheapest smartphone. That was apparently enough to get the patronage of the legislator who was present at Wednesday’s event.
The 3G phone with a 4-inch WVGA resolution display, features a 1.3 Ghz quad-core processor, 1GB RAM, 8GB total storage space and a 3.2 megapixel camera on the back. It has a 0.3 MP selfie camera and a 1450 mAh battery.
Goel didn’t speak much at the launch and was often guided by his wife, Dhaarna, the company’s CEO.
However, Goel’s parents who were present at the event said he had been assisting his father at his grocery store in Uttar Pradesh’s Shamli district till recently.
So, how does Ringing Bells make a phone for Rs 251? The real cost of the device is Rs 2,500, which will be recovered through a raft of measures like economies of scale, innovative marketing, reduction in duties and creating an ecommerce marketplace, Chaddha said.
None of these exist right now. And Chaddha isn’t putting in any money. The phone will be manufactured in Noida— two plants will be set up for Rs 250 crore each. The money will come in the form of debt and equity (1.5:1). When Goel was asked if his family was investing the money, he said “No”.
Chaddha also rejected speculation of the handset being subsidised by the central government.
“A 3G device with the specs offered would cost 8 times more. So, we’re interested in learning how they have achieved this, including all the licensing fees,” said Suneet Singh Tuli, CEO of DataWind, who is coming out with a Rs 999 smartphone this year.
The Freedom 251 comes with a generous helping of apps linked to government initiatives, such as Swachh Bharat, Women Safety, Fisherman, Farmer and Medical.
The model at the launch also carried the branding of Adcom, which sells a similar phone for Rs 5,000. But a Ringing Bells executive said, “These are beta models. The ones that will be sold in the market won’t have the branding.”
India is the world’s second-largest cellphone market and notched up its billionth subscriber in October, government data show.