India 'the new China' for smartphone makers

Dhiraj Singh | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Just as China's long-insatiable appetite for smartphones wanes, India promises to be the next hot spot for explosive growth, a new report claims.

"India presents the world's largest smartphone growth potential for the next 5 years," Mark Li, senior analyst at Bernstein Research said in a report titled India: The Next China for Smartphones?

The South Asian nation is already the world's third largest smartphone market behind China. However, it is forecast to more than double its smartphone shipments in the next 5 years, overtaking the U.S. to become the world's second biggest market.

"This forecast is not aggressive, because even by then, the smartphone penetration will still be just around 35 percent, below the level in China and Brazil today," Li said.

India vs China

Smartphone manufactures will however need to deploy a different strategy to that used in neighboring China.

The Indian smartphone market is characterized by low average selling prices (ASPs), slow technology migration and a high reliance on retail channels. The bulk of the smartphone growth comes from the below-$100 segment. Last year, over 40 percent of handsets sold in the country were priced under $100, and that proportion is expected to surpass 50 percent in the next five years.

"This is much lower than the ASP in China or Indonesia, let alone developed countries," Li said. "Unlike in China or developed markets, operators provide little handset subsidy and account for only 4.5 percent of India's market," he said.


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In terms of technology, most of the smartphones sold in India are still 3G, with 3G penetration currently less than 10 percent. This is about four years behind China's adoption of 3G and also well below the level of other large, emerging Asian markets, Li added.

And smartphones are still mainly distributed through retail channels, rather than by network operators, because almost 70 percent of the Indian population lives in rural areas where networks have a smaller presence .

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"Going forward the operator channel is expected to remain insignificant compared with China and developed markets," he said.

While online sales are developing rapidly, with smartphone makers partners with e-commerce platforms such as Amazon India and Flipkart, low internet penetration and weak logistics infrastructure mean growth will be limited.

Who's best positioned?

Given the market's characteristics, local and Chinese low-cost manufactures are well positioned to capture India's growth, according to Li.

Samsung is currently the top smartphone vendor in India with a 27.8 percent market share. However, its share has been declining in the past few years due to rising competition from domestic vendors. India's Micromax, Intex and Lava are the second, third and fourth biggest players, with a 15.3 percent, 9.4 percent and 5.4 percent market share, respectively.

"They focus on brand, distribution and customer service and rely on Chinese partners for handset design and manufacturing. Their 'low-price, high-specs' models are more wallet-friendly than those Samsung offers," Li said.

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"Going forward, with most incremental smartphone shipment coming from the low end, it will be more and more difficult for international [manufactures] to compete with the local or Chinese players," he said.

Xiaomi is one mainland manufacturer that has already made significant headway in the market with its low-price devices. It entered India last July and already has a 5 percent share of the market. Earlier this year, the company also announced plans to set up a manufacturing base in the country to meet robust demand.

Lenovo, with the acquisition of Motorola, has also rapidly gained market share in India through its partnership with Flipkart.