Indian phone companies call for help as rivalry picks up

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Chinese smartphone companies have swept into India with aggressive marketing that targets the Indians’ love for selfies and 4G phones, leaving local firms to play catch-up in the world’s fastest growing mobile phone market.

In the first quarter (January to April) of the year, Chinese firms such as Xiaomi, Vivo, Lenovo and Oppo cornered a 51.4 per cent share of the smartphone market, compared with a 16.9 per cent share for the same period last year, said International Data Corporation (IDC).

In contrast, top Indian phone-makers such as Intex Technologies and Micromax have seen their share fall to 13.5 per cent from 40.5 per cent for the same quarter last year.

Now, they are looking to the government to help them out.

Mr Rajeev Jain, chief financial officer of Intex Technologies, said the government should look at imposing anti-dumping duties on Chinese phones for a start.

The government, focused on bringing in foreign investment, is unlikely to turn protectionist. Still, Indian phone-makers are not seeking higher duties on components such as LED screens – which Indian firms source from China – just for Chinese phones.

India overtook the US for second place behind China with a smartphone user base of over 300 million. More are expected to switch to smartphones as the market gets a boost from the ongoing roll-out of 4G services and increased Internet coverage.

Chinese firms, facing saturation in their domestic market, are going strong, unrolling more 4G phones with a variety of attractions such as bigger storage space and display screens, as well as selfie features.

Experts said Indian phone-makers would not be able to reverse the trend any time soon with normally price-conscious Indian consumers not averse to spending a little more on phones with better features. The average price of a smartphone rose from US$131 (S$181) in the first quarter of last year to US$155 for the same period this year, said IDC.

Mr Sharma said Indian manufacturers could take steps such as bundling phones with telecommunications operators, focusing on the middle-segment 4G smartphones and even looking at foreign markets.

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