No names have been taken. No specific targets have been mentioned. But it really doesn’t take a rocket scientist these days to decipher what or who POCO and Realme are sniping at on Twitter these days. With regularity as precise as night after day and so on. That brings us to the latest chapter of this war which doesn’t have specifically mentioned targets. On Monday that just passed us by, Realme launched the new X50 Pro 5G smartphone. Jostling ahead of the pack, in great hurry. Probably because another Chinese smartphone maker iQOO had announced they’ll be the first to launch a 5G smartphone in India, the iQOO 3—but let us not allege or assume anything. Congratulations for being the first to launch a 5G phone in India by a few hours. Now what?
Later in the same day, C Manmohan, General Manager at POCO India tweeted, “5G…Now that we have your attention. Just letting you know - we're here to give you everything you need, nothing you don't.” If we are to ignore the typical fanboy attitude that seems to afflict a lot of the potential customers (a more friendly term is “fans”) on social media and quite easily exhibited by the venom they spew, may we ask a rather pertinent question—where is 5G in India, yet? Seriously, what will you do waving around a 5G phone in India at this time? Or anytime in the next few months? No seriously, we ask this because you may know something we don’t.
iQOO probably did the smart thing by launching three variants of the iQOO 3, which goes on sale early next month. The entry spec variant is priced at Rs 36,990 and offers 8GB RAM and 128GB storage while the mid-spec variant costs Rs 39,990 and offers 256GB storage. Both of these phones are 4G capable. Only the top spec variant with 12GB RAM and 256GB storage priced at Rs 44,990 is 5G ready. In case you didn’t notice, the iQOO 3 and the Realme X50 Pro 5G (prices start at Rs 37,999) both run the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor—and this comes with the Qualcomm Snapdragon X55 5G modem as a pair. There you have it—phone makers didn’t actually make any additional effort to get 5G on to the phone they want you to buy next, it essentially landed on their lap and they decided to milk it to the maximum.
As Kunal Khullar has already pointed out (You can read that here), India is far from allocating spectrum to telecom operators, heck, most of the operators in the country are running in losses. Another thing to note here is that chipsets with 5G connectivity cost way more than phones with LTE, including the Snapdragon 865. Sure, everyone loves to upgrade to a new faster processor, but would you pay extra for a marginal increase in performance, which is hardly even visible? Maybe bring these 5G modem equipped chips once the pricing is a bit more stabilised?
Talking of the state of mobile operators in India, Vodafone is gasping for breath and literally has no money left to even survive comfortably, let alone potentially splurge on 5G spectrum whenever it goes up for auction. Then there is Airtel, which is also reeling from the large wad of cash it has already paid to the government and more needs to be sent that way. In the quarterly earnings call earlier this month, Gopal Vittal, the Chief Executive Officer of Bharti Airtel had said, “5G requires a large block of spectrum. We believe it is too high a price. We will not pick it up at those prices.” So, there you have it. Reliance Jio hasn’t clarified their plans for 5G just yet. But then again, they also don’t need to, because any potential 5G spectrum auction isn’t even on the horizon, just yet.
Look, the sum and substance of all this is 5G is just not relevant at this time. And it probably won’t be in the near future at least. Futureproofing is good, but you have to take a call on how much. Do you buy a 7-seater SUV now in the hope that you may have children 4 years down the line and will need that space, or buy one when you actually have a family large enough to justify a 7-seater SUV? It is your money. And the last we checked, it is a democracy. You decide how you want to spend your money. But if phone makers actually spent more time talking about how the new processor, the Snapdragon 865 in this case, improves the user experience and what else they’ve done on the software side of things to enhance the UX, that would perhaps resonate better with a wider demographic of potential customers.