Indian mobile operators turn to low-cost Android tablets

The operators expect low-cost tablets to drive demand for data plans

India's largest mobile operator, Bharti Airtel, and second largest, Reliance Communications, are bundling Android tablets priced at between US$220 and $285 with their mobile services, in a bid to increase use of their data plans.

The low-cost devices will help these companies sign up subscribers for data plans, as the cost of the data device was a key obstacle until now, said Kamlesh Bhatia, a principal research analyst at Gartner. Other operators will certainly follow with similar offerings, he added.

India had 852 million mobile subscribers at the end of June, according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.

At the price at which the devices are being offered, they will certainly appeal to middle-class and even lower middle-class consumers, Bhatia said. It is however difficult to estimate how many of the customers of these operators will buy tablets, he added.

Beetel Teletech, a Bharti Enterprises group company, on Wednesday launched a 7-inch tablet priced at 9,999 rupees ($220). A company spokesman said the device will be bundled with a data plan from group company, Bharti Airtel. The tablet will be marketed by Beetel, which is the telecom products arm of the group.

Bharti Airtel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Beetel tablet, called the Beetel Magiq, supports 3G and Wi-Fi, and also voice calls. It comes with 8GB memory, which is expandable to 16GB, and runs Android 2.2 on an unidentified 1 GHz processor. It will also be sold through other service providers, the spokesman said.

Beetel is having the product manufactured in an undisclosed location abroad to take advantage of economies of scale. The product was designed by Beetel in tandem with Huawei Technologies.

Reliance's 7-inch Android tablet supports both 3G and Wi-Fi, and is priced at 13,000 rupees. The operator is bundling the device with its 3G data plans.

The Android tablets from Reliance and Beetel will compete with netbooks at the low-end and the more expensive tablets like the iPad from Apple at the high end, Bhatia said.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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John Ribeiro

IDG News Service
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