We’ll bridge the low cost smartphone gap in the market: Datawind CEO

By Sanjeeb Kumar Sahoo

Datawind, the makers of low-cost Aakash tablets, has some aggressive plans for India markets with its low-cost smartphones. In an interaction with Voice&Data, Sunnet Singh Tuli, CEO, Datawind, says that not only ‘Make in India’ but also ‘Use Swadeshi’ will help to produce low-cost devices in bulk in India.

Voice&Data: Can you please elaborate on your brand’s market penetration in the India market?
Suneet Singh Tuli: Our strategies for India have always been very aggressive as we believe India is a very huge market for DataWind. It is our commitment to ‘Made in India’ thought that we became the first ones, in fact the only ones so far, to set up a facility for manufacturing ‘touch panels’ in India. Also we have opened our second assembly facility in Amritsar for manufacturing smartphones and tablets.

Another focus area for DataWind in India has always been to break the affordability barrier and provide internet access to empower the billions of people globally that are left out of the digital age. Our patented technology allows for a fast, rich and affordable experience on existing networks without any new infrastructure. We break the affordability barrier with the world’s most affordable tablets, phablets and smartphones. Our range of products starts from as low as Rs 1,999 and we provide free 1 year of browsing through Reliance connection.

We have recently joined hands with Telenor which was earlier known as Uninor to provide free internet browsing in six circles of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Bihar and Jharkhand, UP (East), UP (West), Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Buyers of Datawind device in these circles stand to get this offer from DataWind.

We have also, expanded our retail distribution in India by partnering with Iris Computers. Through this partnership, DataWind’s entire range of tablets and smartphones will be sold throughout Iris Computers’ network of over 2,500 channel partners. The agreement expands DataWind’s growing distribution network, which will total over 7,500 retail locations upon completion of the current phase.

Voice&Data: How much investment you have made  or are planning for Make in India?
Suneet Singh Tuli: At present, we already have manufacturing facilities in India and that is our main manufacturing unit. With Modi government taking steps in the direction of ‘all clearances under one roof’ and fast track approvals, we are confident that the dream of ‘Make in India’ will become a reality.

Improved policies on manufacturing, duties, and skill development will enthuse players to come to India for setting up their manufacturing units. Not only ‘Make in India’ but also ‘Use Swadeshi’ will also help produce low-cost devices in bulk here.

We are looking at opening another manufacturing facility in India which will be Datawind’s largest manufacturing unit. We are very hopeful of generating good dividends for all our stake holders

Voice&Data: Although the ‘Make in India’ initiative is in place, what type of role do you think the government should play to push handset manufacturing in the country?

Suneet Singh Tuli: The opportunity for Make in India is a positive step by the Government. Equalization of Excise Duty and Import Duty is the first step. Issues related to VAT need be sorted out early.
There are advantages attached to the government’s ‘Make in India’ manufacturing push. Incentives like cash back on investments in the sector, and tax exemptions along with preference for domestically manufactured electronic products for government procurements are encouraging signals.

All these conditions are good enough for the companies to be more than interested. Incentives in the right quantum need to be added to encourage domestic production. No wonder most Indian mobile phone ‘manufacturers’, who make the bulk of their phones in China, as well as their multinational rivals, are queuing up to move their assembly lines to India.

The provision of infrastructure further needs to be supported by an awareness campaigns that enthuses the disconnected to leverage the inherent benefits. Government needs to create policies which help to improve the awareness to realize the dream of a Make in India.

Voice&Data: From which destinations are the major components of a mobile phone being imported? What kind of partnerships you have put in place for that?

Suneet Singh Tuli: Components come from all over the world including from the US, Korea, Taiwan and China. Some key components are manufactured in India like the touch panels are made in our own fab in Amritsar, the first touch manufacturing facility in India. We have specific partnership with processor manufacturers, and the processor manufacturers that give us advance access to new processors and their socials.

Voice&Data: Given the cost efficiencies of that do you think make in India will include local components manufacture in the near future?

Suneet Singh Tuli: Yes, a number of components are manufactured in India as mentioned the touch screen panels we initiated – in fact two years back.

Voice&Data: What kind of growth you are looking at for your smartphone brands? And what trends in smartphones will we be seeing in the coming year?

Suneet Singh Tuli: We believe that the fact that two third of all phones being sold are feature phones they will transition to smartphones and that’s the market share we are focused on, the entry level of smartphone market that is the feature phone market.

Voice&Data: Today, what do you consider as one big challenge for ‘make in India’ to take off in India with respect to handsets?

Suneet Singh Tuli: The disparate taxation structure, for one, on electronic components as against the completely built units discourages the interested to actually perform manufacturing/assembling here in India given that components currently draw more duty than the finished products.

Thus, for the electronic manufacturing to succeed here the environment has to be one of an enabler and accordingly the cluster has to be formed in a manner that it supports the manufacturer’s requirement. Though, we are happy that the Govt is moving in the direction of creating a manufacturer friendly atmosphere.

Voice&Data: Chinese handset makers are also eyeing the market in a big way. What is your readiness in wrestling market share?

Suneet Singh Tuli: Leading the growth in smartphones is a surge in upgrades in developed markets and the accelerated shift from feature phones to smartphones. This can be observed in the booming Indian smartphone market, which has attracted a number of manufacturers looking to expand out from the equally competitive Chinese market.

Largest growth in the next few years is projected to come from the Indian markets, in fact, India is set to overtake the US market as early as 2016.

Our main focus is to bridge the digital divide and to provide education to those in India who are unable to afford it using e-learning and other learning tools, as such as our platform is different from other handset makers as we have a specific vision in mind which is to empower the forgotten billions.

Voice&Data: What are your plans for manufacturing/ assembling in India? Who are the component makers in India you are in partnership with?

Suneet Singh Tuli: As mentioned earlier DataWind has always been very vocal about ‘Made in India’ products. From the very beginning we have been propagating the cause and requesting to make manufacturing process easier for those who want to set up their FABS here for computing devices.

It is our commitment to ‘Made in India’ thought that we became the first one, in fact the only one so far, to set up a facility to manufacture ‘touch panels’ in India. Also we have opened our second assembly line in Amritsar through which we exported almost 2 lakh tablets and smart phones in two months of operations.

We are happy that the government is moving in the direction of creating a manufacturer friendly atmosphere and we are going to invest more and more into Make in India.

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