Sunday, 15 October 2017

Extraordinary low cost 4G smartphone (sub Rs 3000) and low cost 4G Internet access portends very bright outlook on this front for India, and perhaps the world

Last updated on 15th Oct. 2017

These past few months seem to be raining bonanzas for Indian customers of low-cost 4G Internet services as well as 4G Internet devices. I am pleasantly shocked to see how they seem to have already revolutionized Internet usage by lower middle class and poor Indians across the country, I guess, with more low-cost gizmos on offer! I think these offerings will have long-term and large-scale impact of vastly improved delivery of Internet based services of various kinds including education related, to lower middle class and poor Indians across the country. That is a source of great joy and happiness to me.

The latest low-cost gizmo is a 4 inch touch screen 4G smartphone, Karbonn A40 Indian, offered at the price of Rs. 2899 by Airtel in combination with Karbonn mobile devices company, with a potential refund of Rs. 1500 over a 36 month period if one buys appropriate Airtel 4G plans. Note that these Airtel 4G Internet plans give free phone calls across the country via 4G phones like the above mentioned one. Also note that Karbonn is an Indian company, http://www.karbonnmobiles.com/company. The design of the phones seem to be Indian. It is reported that the devices are manufactured/assembled in India.

The background to this offer is Reliance Jio company's offer, a few months ago, of the 4G JioPhone for a refundable deposit of Rs. 1500 (and so, effective price of ZERO), which can be used to make free Jio 4G calls anywhere in the country on appropriate Jio 4G Internet plans. However, the JioPhone is NOT a touch screen phone and is not a smartphone like the Karbonn A40 Indian phone referred above. Note that the JioPhone device seems to be manufactured in China as per Reliance Jio, an Indian company, specifications.

I find the Karbonn A40 Indian phone's listed features to be very attractive at its sub-Rs-3000 price. Here are its key features (from http://www.karbonnmobiles.com/A40-Indian, http://gadgets.ndtv.com/karbonn-a40-indian-4451):
* 10.16 cm (4 inch) WVGA display, capacitive touch, 800x480 pixels resolution
* Android Nougat 7.0 OS
* 1.3 GHz Quad core processor
* 1 GB RAM
* 8 GB storage expandable to 32 GB (via microSD card)
* Dual SIM slots (3G/4G)
* VoLTE (HD voice calls)
* WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, Hotspot, Micro-USB, Bluetooth
* 2 MP Rear camera, 0.3 MP Front camera
* 1400 mAh Li-ion battery, Standby time: 200 hrs, Talktime upto 4 hrs, Charging time upto 3 hrs
* Weight: 249 grams

JioPhone features are listed here: http://gadgets.ndtv.com/jio-phone-4255 and https://www.jio.com/en-in/book-jio-phone. Key features are:
* 2.40 inch screen, NOT TOUCH SCREEN, 240x320 pixels resolution
* KAI OS
* 1.2 GHz Dual core processor
* 512 MB RAM
* 4 GB storage expandable to 128 GB (via microSD card)
* Single SIM slot (Jio 4G only)
* VoLTE (HD voice calls)
* WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth, USB
* 2000 mAh Li-ion battery, Talktime upto 12 hours, Standby time upto 15 days.
* 2 MP Rear camera, 0.3 MP Front camera

Related article: Airtel Karbonn A40 Indian hits JioPhone out of the ball park. Here's why, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/technology/story/airtel-karbonn-a40-indian-hits-jiophone-out-of-the-ball-park-heres-why/1/1068009.html

The JioPhone ties the user to Jio SIM only.

In the case of Karbonn A40 Indian, it works with any 3G/4G SIM, and is a dual SIM phone. To avail of Rs. 1500 refund over 36 month period one needs to use (one) Airtel SIM and Airtel 4G plan. If one is not interested in the Rs. 1500 (complex) refund over a 36 month period, then it seems that one can use any two companies 3G/4G SIMs and plans with the device, with the effective price being the full Rs. 2899 without any refund. Note that the phone is not yet available at Rs. 2899 price in regular outlets. However, it is available NOW for around Rs. 3,600 at Amazon India here: https://www.amazon.in/karbonn-a-40-indian/dp/B074N3ZY5B.

As the Karbonn A40 Indian is an Android (Nougat) phone, it will be able to run standard Android apps including apps like Facebook, one presumes. The JioPhone may be able to run only a smaller set of Jio apps. Its KAI OS is said to be a custom version of Firefox OS.

To put things in perspective, I re-visited these old blog posts of mine (written then with pseudonym Gabbar Singh and blog then being named gabbarsing.blogspot.com or something like that):
1) JXD 951 Quick User Review / Manual / Notes, http://ravisiyermisc.blogspot.in/2008/09/jxd-951-quick-user-review-manual-notes.html, dated 9th Sept. 2008
2) Reading Text files as images with large font on JXD 951 480x272 mp4 player, http://ravisiyermisc.blogspot.in/2008/09/reading-text-files-as-images-with-large.html, dated 9th Sept. 2008
3) Viewing Sanskrit/Hindi documents on ipod Touch/iPhone, http://ravisiyermisc.blogspot.in/2009/12/viewing-sanskrithindi-documents-on-ipod.html, 6th Dec. 2009
4) Affordable Pocket ebook Reader for Sanskrit/Hindi/English, http://ravisiyermisc.blogspot.in/2009/12/affordable-pocket-ebook-reader-for.html, 9th Dec. 2009.
5) Setting up ipod Touch to be a Pocket ebook Reader, http://ravisiyermisc.blogspot.in/2009/12/setting-up-ipod-touch-to-be-pocket.html, 14th Dec. 2009

The above posts show that I was interested in having an affordable (for lower middle class Indian) pocket ebook reader in 2008 and 2009. In 2008, I bought a Chinese made JXD951 media player device with a 4 inch. display for Rs. 4650 and went through some hoops in trying to use it as a pocket ebook reader. Eventually in end 2009 I decided to switch to an iPod Touch 2nd Gen bought for Rs. 9,600 which was a very satisfactory pocket ebook reader when used along with some appropriate apps. It could also browse the Internet over a WiFi connection.

From https://everymac.com/systems/apple/ipod/specs/ipod-touch-2g-specs.html: The iPod Touch 2nd Gen has a 3.5 inch touch screen display of 320x480 pixels resolution. It uses a 533 MHz processor and 128 MB onboard RAM.

Features wise, the Karbonn A40 Indian is superior (naturally) to the (old) iPod Touch 2nd Gen.: 4 inch touch screen, 800x480 pixels resolution, Quad core processor, 1 GB (onboard) RAM, WiFi and Android OS with Android apps market becoming accessible (as against iOS apps for iPod Touch). AND it is a dual SIM 4G VoLTE phone!!! For less than 3000 Rupees!!!

From a features point of view (though one does not know how good the quality will be, especially as compared to great quality of the ipod Touch), the Karbonn A40 Indian device is a stunning winner! A pocket touchscreen ebook reader cum 4G VoLTE phone cum 4G Internet browser cum Android Nougat apps device!

Couple that with a 4G plan like Jio's Rs. 399 plan for 84 days (Rs. 143 per 30 days) giving 1 GB data per day at 4G speed (with beyond 1 GB data per day at 128 Kbps speed) AND FREE voice calls all over India!

Compared to the options I had in 2008 and 2009 for an affordable for lower middle class Indian, pocket ebook reader device, as reflected in above mentioned blog posts, in 2017, less than a decade later, my options have improved exponentially! And as my situ would be similar to that of tens or hundreds of millions of lower middle class Indians, imagine what revolutionary impact such affordable 4G smartphone touch screen devices in combination with affordable 4G Internet plans, will have on India as a whole in sectors like education, business, social media networking etc.

And then imagine a replication of what is happening in India, either already happening simultaneously or happening in the near future, in various other countries of the developing world in Asia, Africa, Latin America and even Eastern Europe! Perhaps the poor and lower middle class in developed countries in Western Europe, USA, Canada, Australia and Asia (e.g. China, Japan) would also be keenly interested in such very affordable devices and Internet service plans being made available to them.

On this front at least, I think the outlook is very, very bright for the world at large. Hats off to all the inventors, technologists and business people (men and women) in hardware, software and applications field that made this technology-cum-business miracle of very low cost 4G smartphone and low cost 4G Internet access possible. May Almighty God bless them all with love, peace and joy.
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An Indian correspondent (IC) wrote (and was OK with public sharing):

Dear Ravi

I am hesitant about these 4G plans. The 4G coverage in India is very patchy: even in Pune, there are areas with and without 4G coverage. I used to get Airtel 4G at home but then that became sporadic and I had to use my Jio 4G hub to provide connectivity.

So getting a device locked to one vendor's 4G will be very limiting if you expect to travel to different places.

The introduction of Jio 4G has really shaken up the market. Other vendors like Airtel and Vodafone have lost market share and are frantically busy trying to get new customers. One way they can do this is to change the alignment of their antenna slightly to bring new areas into the coverage (and of course give some existing customers a poorer service -- it's a zero sum game).

I have complained to Airtel at all levels, from the CEO down; the message hinted at is that they do not have enough antennas to provide full coverage and, to save cost, they are going slow on installing new antennas.
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I (Ravi) responded (slightly edited):

Interesting views, ----.

To me, Reliance Jio 4G offering seemed to be too good to be true, when it first came out late last year. I have a great aversion, born from lots of experience over decades, of being on the bleeding edge of tech., whether hardware, software or a combination of them. But as I saw that a good friend of mine in Puttaparthi was enjoying Jio 4G Internet over months, with initial months being FREE, I decided that it was worth trying out. So far, I have not regretted my decision to move on to low-cost Jio 4G as my primary Internet connection in Puttaparthi, disconnecting my landline BSNL broadband of nearly a decade. Note that my needs are not very high on speed and nor on availability. I mean, if it is slow (below 1 Mbps) for an hour or two and even not available for an  hour or two, I can live with that.

Another thing is the free calls all over India thing. I feel like a fool now as I use a 3G phone and have to pay for my phone calls even though I have two Reliance Jio 4G SIMs in operation with free calls all over India facility. Granted I don't use my phone much but even then I feel like a fool as I am paying for those limited calls whereas many others in Puttaparthi using Jio 4G plans (or Airtel 4G plans) don't pay anything for the calls (but pay for the 4G Internet service plan, of course).

It is this feeling like a fool for having to pay for voice calls that is driving me towards buying a 4G phone. I was seriously thinking of going in for a Reliance JioPhone once it becomes more easily available for Rs. 1500 (refundable deposit). But now I have got the sub 3000 Karbonn A40 touchscreen Android dual SIM 3G/4G smartphone possibility. So that's what I am going to buy once it becomes available in Puttaparthi.

Will this low-cost 4G Internet thing be around for years down the line? Is it a bubble that will burst, inflicting serious damage on the companies that have gone down this road? I honestly don't know.

Right now I am going with the flow. And the flow is low-cost 4G Internet with people in Puttaparthi disconnecting their landline broadband connection in droves. I am quite sure this thing must be happening in many small towns and small cities all over India. The big city picture in India (Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore etc.) may be somewhat different as the landline Internet broadband plans there may still be attractive as compared to 4G Internet, due to reliable and high-speed Internet they provide (> 50 Mbps).
----

IC wrote:
By the way, we had a long power outage last week, perhaps 6-7 hours. Sadly, both Airtel and Jio stopped functioning. This means they have limited power backup and cannot be relied upon in emergencies. Our BSNL telephone line (no broadband) continued to work! There's something to be said for that.
----

I (Ravi) responded:

About the power outage: Hmm. That's useful input.

About BSNL telephone line working during the power outage: I am not surprised as I have a good opinion of BSNL's reliability now. BSNL Puttaparthi is rock solid in its service, both on telephone line and on broadband. It is the price differential between its broadband and 4G broadband that made me reluctantly give up BSNL landline broadband. I hope BSNL landline broadband offers competitive price to 4G Internet at which time I will seriously consider reconnecting to BSNL landline broadband.
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