Handset manufacturing value chain: What would it take for India to actualise its potential?

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Mobile handset sales in India, the world’s second largest wireless services market, are expected to grow at an annual rate of 8.5 per cent to reach 231 million units in 2012. The domestic demand for handsets is expected to touch 350 million units per year by 2020, and it has been predicted that the number of handsets exported the same year will reach 300 million units. Being the world’s fastest growing cellular markets in terms of subscriber additions, the wireless subscriber base in India is expected to reach 1.5 billion by 2020.

By Srabani Sen

Thursday, January 12, 2012: Indian handset market scenario

Overall, the handset market is vibrant with varied offerings across all segments. In this scenario, handset vendors face tough competition. It is becoming harder for them to compete just with unique handset features. One needs to be innovative, price competitive, and offer high quality products. And, this can happen only if we create a manufacturing ecosystem, focus on research and development (R&D), and ensure a uniform tax rate for mobile handsets in India.

“Despite the fact that India is the fastest growing market for mobile teledensity in the world, not many Indian handset companies currently manufacture within the country. Local manufacturing is a key pillar for India’s economic growth, yet it has been totally neglected. Currently, 70 per cent of the handsets sold in India every year are imported,” informs Anil K Kaushik, CEO and director, iVK Mobile Pvt Ltd, the company behind the SICT brand of mobiles in India.

In September 2010, while doing a story on handset manufacturing in India, we talked to the major indigenous mobile companies in India. At that point, more than a dozen local companies had revealed plans to set up handset manufacturing plants in India soon. In fact, according to Pankaj Mohindroo, chairman, Manufacturing Advisory Committee and national president, Indian Cellular Association (ICA), almost all local handset players had plans to manufacture in India. One year later, when we spoke to them again, they were still buoyant about their plans of setting up manufacturing facilities in India, but emphatically cited the lack of a proper mobile handset ecosystem and value chain segments in India as the reason for the delay in their plans. “Given the increased importance of handsets, the key responsibility of policy makers is the creation of proactive regulation with respect to handsets. This should focus on developing an ecosystem including all value chain segments in order to attract investments, rationalise the taxation regime, protect consumer interests, create a service enabling environment and ensure environmental sustainability,” explains SN Rai, co-founder and director, Lava International Ltd.

However, Pankaj Mohindroo is happy with the manufacturing scenario in India. “The annual demand for handsets in 2011, which was approximately 160-165 million units, will hopefully touch 245 million units by 2014 and about 300 million by 2017. Therefore, the opportunity to mould India into a component manufacturing hub has to be initiated through an appropriate policy and with business enablers from the government. The Centre should adopt a differential duty regime for imports and for domestic manufacturing,” he says. “Most of the renowned telecom companies have set up base in India, so it is essential to focus on the development of indigenous design and manufacturing capabilities to achieve higher levels of localisation. Hence, it is a golden opportunity for Indian players to develop capabilities in the handset manufacturing value chain as components suppliers, contract manufacturers or handset original equipment manufacturers (OEMs),” adds Pankaj Mohindroo.

India, an alluring destination

Keeping in mind the cost effectiveness of manufacturing, India seems to be an alluring destination for handset manufacturers. India’s low wage costs compared to several countries in Asia and Europe is a key attraction. India also offers a demographic profile that few countries can match. About half the population, which forms the prime low cost working group, is below 25 years. India also scores high with regard to potential domestic demand and a low cost manufacturing proposition.

However, very little component sourcing is happening in the country at the moment. What are being locally sourced are electrical and mechanical parts, whereas electronic components are all imported. Having successfully sold India as a destination for telecom manufacturing to OEMs and EMS players, the policy makers should not rest on their laurels. Now, they have to make an extra effort to explore how component suppliers can set up base in the country, at the earliest. This will help in lowering the cost of procurement, thereby making India manufactured phones cost effective not only for Indians but also for exports. “But for this to happen, Indian firms have to look at sourcing 75-80 per cent of a handset’s components from within India, either using existing companies or bringing in a whole lot of companies to partner with vendors and EMS players from abroad,” says SN Rai. “India’s manufacturing base is not as developed as China’s, although its cost of manufacturing is competitive. But at the same time, India is incomparable in its software development skills,” he adds.

At present, barring a few firms like Nokia, LG, Samsung and Spice, not many handset companies manufacture in India, even though there are close to 12 million new subscribers being added every month. However, some Indian handset companies like Maxx have already announced their plans to start manufacturing in the country by early next year. Micromax, Lava, HTC, Zen, Pine, Wynn Telecom and Karbonn are considering manufacturing units in India. “Presently, most of these companies depend on China and Taiwan to manufacture their handsets, mainly owing to better infrastructure, stronger supply chains and a cost effective workforce. However, with many local companies seriously considering manufacturing in India, the country seems to be emerging as a mobile handset manufacturing hub,” says NK Goyal, president, CMAI Association of India.

Commenting on this, Ajjay Agarwal, chairman and managing director, MAXX Group, says, “We are an Indian brand and our dream is to have products manufactured indigenously. We believe that having a local manufacturing base is critical to ensure cost effectiveness, stringent quality control and an overall sustainable business model. Considering the huge potential market size and the advantage that we have with the existing manufacturing facilities, we have no doubt that this business will be a significant growth driver for us in the future.”

What is inside a mobile phone?

Mobile phones are becoming increasingly sophisticated and the most advanced devices now incorporate microprocessors, memory, operating systems, applications and core components such as LCD screens and keypads. End users and operators are demanding applications and functions from the PC industry. Given this complexity, it is virtually impossible for any single handset manufacturer to acquire expertise across the rapidly evolving spectrum of hardware and software technologies.

The core technology inside a mobile phone is based on a chipset made up of three or more main components (integrated circuits) designed to collectively provide all the functions for communications and to run applications. The radio frequency circuit (RF) sends and receives voice or data signals to the mobile phone, while the mixed signal circuit converts the signals from the digital to analogue format and vice versa, so that the information can be managed by the baseband circuit (BB).

The software can be managed by a common real time critical operating system (RTOS) in entry level phones. The key difference between an entry level phone and a smartphone is that the latter uses two operating systems, one for the real time critical communication part and one for the applications—Microsoft and Symbian being examples of application operating systems.

Handset manufacturing value chain

So we can see that the transformation of the handset into an all powerful device is dependent on a number of inter-linked factors, which come from different value chain segments. Therefore, striking an optimum balance between the value chain segments is necessary for the continued growth of the handset segment.

Handset manufacturing spans seven distinct value chain segments, with handset OEMs being the key stakeholders. Handset manufacturing is an interplay between the design aspect, the components and the manufacture of the device. The value chain constitutes handset design, four component categories—ICs, passives, modular components and plastic parts. It also constitutes three manufacturing steps—PCB assembly, box build assembly and testing. Each segment requires distinct skill sets, technology and investments. In value terms, the ICs (baseband, RF and memory chips) and the LCD screen constitute 50 per cent of the value of the bill of material (BOM) for a handset and are hence the critical influencers of a handset’s price.

Now, if a mobile company wants to manufacture in India, which of these value chain segments can he fall back on within the country, and for which of these segments does a mobile manufacturer have to depend on imports or have to source the job outside India?

Key segments of handset manufacturing value chain

Semiconductor ICs: At present, there are no chip fabrication units in the country and all chips are imported. Companies have been lobbying with the government for better infrastructure such as good roads, reliable water and power supply, and for tax incentives to mitigate the burden of the initial capital expenditure required to construct chip factories that require, at the very least,

SN Rai, co-founder and director, Lava International Ltd

US$ 3 billion to set up. They hope the government can enable an environment in which the entire electronics industry ecosystem, comprising ASIC designers, semiconductor fab facilities, embedded systems design houses, testing facilities, OEMs and others, can co-exist. “IC fabs are highly capital intensive and 98 per cent of ICs are being imported. No big company has so far invested in this sector in India,” informs Anil K Kaushik. However, the government is making efforts to attract investments to facilitate the setting up of semiconductor wafer fab facilities in India, with an ecosystem for the design and fabrication of chips and chip components.

Passive components: Though passive components comprise only 8 per cent of the BOM, they have the widest application among all electronics components and consist of high precision resistors, capacitors, inductors and filters. However, only 2-5 per cent of passive components are manufactured in India. About 70 per cent of the global passive component production happens in Asia, dominated by Japanese manufacturers such as Murata and TDK. Players like EPCOS have established distribution setups across India, catering to the consumer electronics and PC peripherals sectors.

PCB fabrication: Although PCB fabrication does happen in India, very little is being done for handsets. Dominated by EMS firms such as Flextronics, Solectron, Jabil and Elcoteq, PCBs for handsets are usually double-sided and consist of 15-30 ICs with close to 1000 components on them.

Plastic parts and box build assembly: The plastic parts include keypads, switches and covers that primarily involve precision moulding and coating processes. Box build assembly is the final assembly of parts, which is a labour intensive process. This has high potential in India. 

How can India actualise the potential?

At the centre of the complex supply chain are OEMs like Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, etc. In addition to being brand owners, they also undertake handset reference design and coordinate their global supply chains. The presence of EMS firms allows the handset vendor/OEM to outsource PCB fabrication, assembly and testing. The rapid pace of new model introductions has also led to the emergence of the original design manufacturer (ODM). Handset vendors utilise ODM vendors to carry out handset reference design and manufacturing to plug gaps in their own R&D/design. For example, Nokia utilised BenQ to introduce some of its handsets in the Chinese market.

“This makes handset OEMs, EMS firms and ODMs critical stakeholders in terms of deciding where to locate handset manufacturing setups. Based on the assessment they make of Indian manufacturing, handset manufacturers potentially relocate a part of their supply chain to India. This would be the first step in building a robust handset manufacturing industry in India. As witnessed in other countries, the affiliated component supply chain is also pulled close to the handset facility, establishing parts of the handset driven supply chain in India,” says Pankaj Mohindroo.

The decision to manufacture a component locally depends on the scale of investment and the labour arbitrage potential. For example, the investment requirement varies from US$ 10 million for a battery unit to US$ 1-2 billion for an IC fab unit. Conversely, components such as plastic parts have high labour arbitrage in India, while LCD screens would have little. Based on this framework, a roadmap for the localisation of the component sector can be formulated.

Ajjay Agarwal, chairman and managing director, MAXX Group

This assessment indicates that up to 26 per cent of the BOM (plastic parts, battery, etc) can be localised immediately, with another 30 per cent that can be manufactured in India over 3-5 years.

The current Indian electronics scenario can also provide a platform for handset and component manufacturing in the country. Electronics players (Indian and multinational) with Indian operations range from ODM/EMS firms like Elcoteq, Flextronics, Jabil Circuit, Solectron, Clectronix, D-Link and Sasken, to component manufacturers such as AT&S (PCB), Molex, Hical (magnetics), Tyco (connectors), etc. Their positive manufacturing experience and the expected demand potential has led to many of these players drawing up aggressive growth plans.

Looking forward

Hence, we can see that the stage is now set for handset manufacturing to take off. The need of the hour is for a strong policy initiative from the government to proactively promote electronics manufacturing in the country. “Considering that India is one of the fastest growing markets in the world for mobile phones, local manufacturing must be encouraged by the government through all the supportive policy initiatives required. Local manufacturing would provide substantial additional employment opportunities and considerably reduce the capital locked up in inventory,” says Anil Kaushik.

Adds NK Goyal, “Considering the growth of the industry in India, it can be said that the market results that we see today are beyond expectations. Apart from mobile phone manufacturers, the industry has also seen the growth of mobile phone carriers, mobile phone application developers, mobile phone content providers and so on. It is expected that the industry is going to keep on growing to attain the anticipated goals at a fast rate. There are two big reasons for the

NK Goyal, president, CMAI Association of India

rapid growth of the mobile phone industry in India. First, there is a huge market for entry level mobile phones. And second, high end mobile phone buyers too exist in the Indian market. These reasons encourage the top mobile phone manufacturers to experiment with products from different categories in the Indian market.”

SN Rai admits, “In the long run, China will not be too competitive as compared to India. In order to get the ball rolling for manufacturing in India, the players need to achieve a ‘critical mass production and market base’, which will make manufacturing in India profitable. We are keen on starting manufacturing in India, provided we get the required government support.”

Now it’s up to the government to seize the opportunity and ensure that the local handset industry gets the required power and capability to meet the demands in future. For a manufacturing sector to grow, the most vital aspect is the ecosystem and supply chain, where China currently has a huge advantage. “Just as the handset manufacturers are showing interest, the government needs to attract component vendors to set up production here, which will help keep the handsets competitive,” concludes Anil Kaushik.

The government, on the other hand, has taken the initiative through the draft National Policy for Electronics 2011, to provide preferential market access for domestically manufactured electronics products including mobile devices, SIM cards with enhanced features, etc. It also aims to specifically declare mobile phones as goods of special importance under the Central Sales Tax Act.

Pankaj Mohindroo, chairman, Manufacturing Advisory Committee and national president, Indian Cellular Association

WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE

  • The opportunity to mould India into a component manufacturing hub has to be exploited through the right policies and business enablers from the government.
  • There should be incentives for promoting handset and component exports.
  • Differential duty regime should be adopted for imports and domestic manufacturing. This would create a balance in favour of domestic manufacturing.
  • The government should grant exemption from basic customs duty and the CVD on imported capital goods for the manufacture of components and parts.
  • To continue providing an impetus to the handset and component manufacturing industry, the Central-GST and state-GST components of the GST on cellphones should be exempted.
  • There should be incentives to promote R&D, which has not taken off the way it should have, considering the skill resources and abundant talent that India possesses.
  • There is a need to set up fabrication units to manufacture general purpose chips, which can be used for a large number of electronics equipment including handsets. The initiative should be backed by government support in the form of equity, grants, and soft loans.
  • Customs clearance for imported raw materials and components for domestic manufacture should be done within a stipulated time period.
  • A component supply ecosystem needs to be developed. Some of the components that may potentially be manufactured as a starting point are the chipsets, memory, keyboards, plastic elements, batteries and battery chargers.
  • The government should look at the possibility of exempting countervailing duties on imported capital equipment and the excise duty on capital goods sourced locally. This will make it easier for handset players to start local production.
  • The comparative tax disadvantage must be minimised for locally manufactured handsets by charging a tax equivalent to the central sales tax (CST) on imported handsets.

Recommendations for Government

Parameters Recommendations
Hardware manufacturing cluster parks The government should focus on establishing handset and component manufacturing cluster parks that have state of the art infrastructure for manufacturing. Cluster parks need to be identified that have a strong backward and forward linkage, and provide value addition in a demand driven manner.
Localised manufacturing competitiveness There is a need to set up fabrication units to manufacture general purpose chips, which can be used for a large number of electronics equipment, including handsets. The initiative should be backed by government funding support in the form of equity, grants and soft loans.
Skilled manpower The government should encourage the development of skilled manpower that can be engaged in manufacturing activities. The skill levels of professionals should be upgraded for high-end electronics manufacturing in India.
R&D The government should focus on enhancing R&D activities with respect to the handset design manufacturing ecosystem, and set up knowledge parks that focus on handset and component R&D based on a PPP model.
IPR The government should focus on developing a policy framework that provides incentives for the creation of a highly competitive ecosystem in the country in terms of IPR creation.

Electronics Bazaar, South Asia’s No.1 Electronics B2B magazine

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