Govt Mandates Safety Over Affordability In New Smartphones

by CXOtoday News Desk    Oct 28, 2016

Mobile features

The Government of India has decided to issue a slew of guidelines, aiming at health and safety of users, over the factor of affordability, which is stated to change the costing structure for a lot of handset making companies. This factor will affect the price band for users as well, who typically bank of phones in the lower end price band of Rs 800 to Rs 1,000.

The mandated features have already created a situation of slight panic among handsets makers and other stakeholders in the industry. Having mentioned so, some of the main features being discussed include the use of the ‘panic button’ on all mobile phones beginning January 1, 2017, and also a GPS system from January 1, 2018. Furthermore, there ought to be a display for 22 Indian languages from July 1, 2017.

After the government bought in the single emergency number of 112 earlier this year, the use of the panic button is the next level of innovation, which would allow any endangered user connect to emergency services by pressing only a single key. This would allow them to connect to the police, fire brigade, or even the ambulance services.

Recently, a letter was written from the Indian Cellular Association (ICA) to the Secretary of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) JS Deepak, whereby the request was to postpone the implementation of the panic button to April 1, as the 112 emergency helpline was not active as yet. Pankaj Mohindroo said, “Though the industry is gearing up, the lack of ability to test on 112 is a dampener and without validation it is not possible to go ahead.”

In terms of features vis-a-vis the price point struggle, it is the combination which seems to be the main issue at hand. While most smartphones, and generally more expensive they are as compared to features phones, tend to have the GPS locator feature embedded in them. Hence adding a panic button would not be so much of a problem, or would not push costs so much. But when it comes to the lower end feature phone, which fall in the price band of Rs 800 to Rs 1000, adding a GPS locator could push prices by atleast Rs 400, which would affect the target market greatly.

Also, due to the logistics involved, it would not make much sense if users are connected to government call centers instead of more local ones during emergency situations, as the response time would increase in that case. Hence, government had mandated the use of the GPS system in phones alongside the safety button.

In terms of adding the language support, it would mean a direct increment in the memory of the feature phones, which would imply some new supply chain norms, new procurement norms to be set, which in the end, will push the cost of the feature mobile phone to the consumer, by at least an average 10%. In fact, an industry industry said, “Further, it will affect the procurement as well as distribution supply chains of the phone companies as they will have to make available certain models for specified geographies. It is expected that all these aspects may increase the cost to consumers, on a feature phone by about 10%.” 

Also, incorporating the changes would not be so easy either, but Rakesh Deshmukh, the Chief Executive of Indus OS, which is a regional language focused operating system, felt otherwise. His opinion inclined towards the fact that most of the technological infrastructure already existed in the country, and it is the matter of the phonemakers to incorporate the same into the phones. He said, “Three or four years back the companies were not ready, and even for the government it would have been a problem if they wanted to push it. But now infrastructure is available in the market.”    

The challenge for the new norms set by the government, are for the benefit for the consumers, and ought to be given the due attention and priority. However, given that operational challenges stare the company for the times ahead, implementation of the plans may be a serious challenge. Especially with language support as phonemakers may be need to make different handsets for different regions depending upon their regional languages.

Deshmukh acknowledged this. “It’s not a technology challenge but an operational one. For any manufacturer, the distribution of which works in a pan India fashion, a company can’t make a different model for say Tamil, and a different one for Gujarati,” he said.

While intentions are truly noble and sociologically sensible, it would be a challenge to match the permutations and combinations, as PM Narendra Modi and his government has been pushing for ‘Make in India’ campaign since the last few years, on an extensive scale.