In just 10 months, Reliance Jio’s become the world leader in feature phones

Image: Reuters/Amit Dave
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A quarter of all mobile handsets sold in the world are feature phones, with no touch-screen displays or advanced computing capability. In developing regions such as Africa and India, these affordable phones often control up to 60% of the market.

Now, an Indian company has emerged as the leader in this category.

In the first quarter of 2018, Reliance JioPhone, owned by India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, held a 15% share of the global feature-phone market, according to Hong Kong-based Counterpoint Research. The brand managed this in less than a year of its launch in July 2017, mostly on the back of its “effectively free” 4G feature phones.

The strong growth in Jio, clubbed with the return of the Nokia brand, has helped the global feature phone market grow 38% year-on-year in January-March 2018, Counterpoint said. India contributed to nearly 43% of all feature phone sales during the first three months of 2018.

4G-enabled feature phones have become popular in markets like India where many consumers are still uncomfortable with touch-screen devices and are worried about the lack of vernacular content. These users often suffer from “digital, economic, or literacy divides” that keep them from purchasing relatively expensive smartphones, Counterpoint said.

“4G feature phones are positioned to enable the bottom-of-the-pyramid users who are using basic voice services on mobile phones and cannot afford a smartphone or expensive data plan,” Counterpoint noted. “They can now access 4G internet for the first time, with key internet-capable apps and services from the operator’s expanding ecosystem as well as popular third-party companies.”

Jio’s 4G-enabled feature phones are mainly popular because of the firm’s rock-bottom data rates. Before JioPhone’s launch in September 2016, the number of 2G users was falling at 3% a quarter. However, in the 17 months since Jio’s entry, 2G connections in India have dropped by a massive 40%, as consumers can now afford 4G at cheaper rates.

While Reliance Jio sits at the top now, there is growing competition from Nokia HMD, with its recently launched 8810 4G model and the 4G version of its iconic 3310 handset.