The Jio phone was the talk of the town when it was launched last week, and would be the cause of trepidation for both telecom operators and phone makers. The device is the first Jio-branded phone, and – unsurprisingly – works only on the Jio telecom network. This way, the Mukesh Ambani-backed company is cutting out the two biggest parties in the process. But Airtel doesn’t seem to be taking this lying down, and has a plan to counter the Jio phone, a plan that does not involve excluding handset makers the way Jio has.
In the investor call after announcing its Q1 results for fiscal 2018, Airtel MD and CEO Gopal Vittal said the country’s largest operator is not interested in manufacturing phones and maintaining inventory. Instead, it plans to join hands with 4G feature phone manufacturers and offer bundled plans for the devices. Airtel has also announced plans to launch 4G VoLTE services by March 2018; Jio is presently the only VoLTE network in the country. Airtel already offers bundled plans for certain smartphones, so this strategy will be an extension of an existing one.
Lava is currently the only brand with a 4G feature phone in the market (JioPhone will start shipping for beta trials on August 15), but Micromax, Intex and Karbonn are expected to join the fray as well. Other smaller brands may start manufacturing such handsets as well, depending on the demand and the costs involved.
Jio is expected to sell 100 million units of the Jio phone within a year, but the device will be locked to the company’s own network. A bundled offer with partner vendor will give Airtel the same kind of exclusivity, and the option…