India’s £3 smartphone


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Founders of Ringing Bells Mohit Goel with Dhaarna Goel have been advertising the Freedom 251 as an Android phone priced at just INR:251  (£2.77)

Founders of Ringing Bells Mohit Goel with Dhaarna Goel have been advertising the Freedom 251 as an Android phone priced at just INR:251 (£2.77)

In the hand, it feels somewhat like Apple's iPhone 5 and, surprisingly for its price, its specifications are quite impressive – it’s priced at 251 Indian Rupees!

The 4-inch device, which comes in black or white, claims to have 1GB Ram, 8GB internal storage (expandable to 32GB), a quad-core processor and has a camera on both front and back.

It has a few applications, covering basic tasks, such as: calculator, music player, web browser and email.

But the phone has hit a storm of controversy since its launch.

The devices given to the media had white paint on it with the phone having the Adcom branding. A lot of people from the industry and consumers had raised the question of how the phone can be this cheap while the components are costlier than Rs: 251.

The phone's website was poorly made too. With the website being inaccessible many time in the day it had no HTTPS protection for registration. And it even leaked the user data upon manually changing the order number in the order confirmation URL. The company was also accused of copying iPhone's look and feel in terms of the software and the hardware.

Questions are being asked about whether the company will be able to deliver the millions of handsets it says it can.

The phone has been embroiled in a storm of controversy since its launch when devices given to the media had white paint on it with the phone having the Adcom branding

The phone has been embroiled in a storm of controversy since its launch when devices given to the media had white paint on it with the phone having the Adcom branding

One member of the Indian parliament, Kirit Somaiya, has even suggested a "huge scam" is being perpetrated, while the head of the Indian Cellular Association has said the sale seemed to be "a joke or a scam".

Mohit Goel, the founder and chief executive of Ringing Bells, denies the allegations of fraud.

Mr Goel rejects claims that the launch of the Freedom 251 is not what it seems.

His family has been in the dry fruits business for decades, and he tells his desire to be part of the digital India dream drove him to the idea of a cheap handset.

There is no denying the demand for such a product.

India is the world's second-largest mobile phone market, with one billion subscribers - many have joined those ranks thanks to other low-cost - but not this low - smartphones.

More than 70 million people have registered online to get one, and the company's website had crashed.

So, is the Freedom 251 too good to be true? The device given out to some select journalists was actually a Chinese-made phone.

Its brand name - Adcom - had been covered up with white paint on the front, and a sticker hid it on the rear.

Funnily, the icons of the phone's apps looked liked those of an iPhone, despite it being an Android device.

This led to a furore as people protested outside the company headquarters, and there were multiple inquires by the police, tax authorities and the enforcement directorate.

Ringing Bells then refunded the deposits it had taken from more than 30,000 people via the internet.

The new handset is definitely a different model.

The most obvious change is that it now has three buttons below its display, rather than just one.

So, where is Ringing Bells making these phones, as it has yet to build factories?

Mr Goel says his company is importing "knocked-down parts" from Taiwan and assembling them in Haridwar in northern India.

But once it makes enough money, he adds, the company wants to manufacture all the parts in India.

The phone costs about 1,180 rupees to make, and Ringing Bells claims to subsidise it via tie-ups with some of the apps that will be pre-installed.

Mr Goel says the business will still lose about 150 rupees on each phone and hopes the government will step in with subsidies.

About 200,000 handsets are said to be ready to send to customers.

Ringing Bells also plans to sell other more expensive handsets - ranging in price up to about $100 (£75) - at a profit.

However, critics remain unconvinced.

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