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Is Freedom 251, the Rs 251 smartphone, a marketing gimmick or a real deal?

File photo of Freedom251 phone

File photo of Freedom251 phone

This Rs 251 Ringing Bells Freedom 251 smartphone is virtually breaking the Indian internet.

This Rs 251 smartphone is virtually breaking the Indian internet. Freedom 251, that is possibly the world's cheapest smartphone, attempts to ride on the Make in India and Digital India wave and is the top trending topic online in India.

While the Ringing Bells' Freedom 251 has both fans and sceptics abound, the lingering question is how Ringing Bells will manage to sell a full-feature smartphone at such a low price. Ashok Chadha, president, Ringing Bells, explained to IBNLive how his company will manage the Rs 251 price tag while also managing a profit.

According to him, his company will pass on the benefits of 13.8 per cent import duty protection along with low marketing and sales costs. They also expect to make the most of economies of scale, according to which prices go down as production goes up.

Of what we understand of Ringing Bells strategy, the Freedom 251 will act as a bait to attract users to an online shopping service that the company plans to set up. And a part of the revenue they generate from the marketplace will be used to subsidise the phone.

While this might appear to be good on paper, the question remains if this will be sustainable in the real world with multiple market forces at work?

We have used the device over a couple of days and it does appear to be a great deal at this low price. The phone comes with a 4-inch WVGA (480x800) IPS display, 3.2 megapixel auto-focus rear camera, 0.3 megapixel front camera, 1.3 GHz quad-core processor, 1 GB RAM, 8 GB of internal storage with SD card support, 1450 mAh battery, and Android 5.1 Lollipop OS. But the concerns around the phone have less to do about the quality of the device.

Expressing concern over the launch of a smartphone at price as low as Rs 251, mobile industry body Indian Cellular Association (ICA) has written to Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to get into depth of the issue, saying the rate could not be below Rs 3,500 even after a subsidised sale.

Even the website set up for prospective buyers to pre-book the phone - - was riddled with multiple issues since morning. A large number of users have complained about the website being inaccessible and issues with placing orders.

The Freedom 251 looks like yet another iPhone clone, not only on the exterior (complete with the circular home button and an non-operational alert slider) but even the app icons appear like a rip-off of what's found on iOS.

The phone also appears to be a rebranded version of another phone marketed in India by New Delhi-based Adcom. The Adcom Ikon 4 (listed on a number of online shopping sites) shares the same looks and similar specifications (the camera specs differ though) as the Ringing Bells Freedom 251, including the appearance of the Apple-like icons.

In fact, the review units, sent to IBNLive, had a partially-erased Adcom logo on the front that the company shoddily attempted to mask with whitener.

IBNLive analysed the import costs of the components of the comparable Adcom Ikon 4 and the price of the components total to at least Rs 2546 (the Adcom Ikon 4 is priced at Rs 4081 on Flipkart). And the Freedom 251 is being advertised at a tenth of that cost.

There are also some objections around if a Rs 251 phone is what Make in India should be about.

Ringing Bells intends to sell around 2.5 lakh to 3 lakh units a month and has set for itself, another seemingly unachievable target of capturing 30 per cent of the Indian smartphone market in the next 12 months.

Going by reaction, consumers have expressed wholehearted desire to own a smartphone at such a low price point. But the real test for Ringing Bells is to deliver on its promise to customers, consistently. And if they are able to do this, the Freedom 251 could disrupt the lower end of the Indian smartphone industry. The task appears tough and doubts remain.

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