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Lucrative Opportunities to Capitalize on India’s Massive Mobile Growth

The Indian mobile phone market is one of the hottest investment sectors. Major companies like Reliance and Google are already pouring millions of dollars.

Earlier this month, Reliance’s Jio Platform also announced that it would invest over 200 million USD in Glance, a Singapore-based mobile content startup (1). It allows users to see content directly on their lock screens.

Since two-thirds of Indians will have a smartphone by 2023, we see a lot of opportunities for ultra-affordable devices that offer gaming, branded content, and commerce straight from the lock screen.

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India’s Massive Mobile Growth

Mobile phone adoption in India grows 11% each year, and it is expected that over 200 million smartphones will be delivered in 2022 (2).

When the coronavirus pandemic forced us to stay indoors, smartphones became a window to the world for most of us. They helped us stay connected with our friends and families, work from home, and even learn new things.

As more businesses have started to hybrid work models, people binging on web series, and keeping themselves entertained with Reels, the demand for smartphones shot up even amid a supply crunch.

“The impact of the pandemic led the market to experience a minor dip which showcased its resilience. It is now set for accelerated growth, realizing the true potential of the Indian market as it crosses the 200 million market in 2022,” said Shilpi Jain, a research analyst from Counterpoint Research (3).

According to Anand Priya Singh, an analyst at CyberMedia, the smartphone shipments will be around 190 million in 2022, with an uptick in 5G device shipments, rising at 129% Y-O-Y from 28 million last year to about 64 million in 2022.

According to Singh, there has been an 11% Y-O-Y increase in smartphone shipments from 150 million in 2020 to 167-168 million in 2021, added Singh.

In addition, while 5G networks are not yet available in India, according to industry watchers, 5G smartphones are in demand as Indian consumers consider 5G among their top three priorities while purchasing smartphones.

“Bearing in mind that 5G trials are scheduled for 2022 and spectrum auctions are likely to happen in H2 2022, we are expecting a higher demand for 5G phones. We aim to be a leader and democratizer in the 5G segment. Hence, we are equipping all smartphones above 15k INR with 5G. We are also looking to bring this technology to the sub-10k INR segment,” said Madhav Sethi, CEO of Realme India (4).

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Apple Continues to Witness Strong Footing in 2022

Apple Inc seems to be on a strong footing in India after its record growth in 2021. Reportedly, iPhone shipments are set to outpace the overall smartphone market this year, considering the local manufacturing and the surge in demand for premium phones.

“We are expecting about 25% growth for Apple while the overall smartphone market is likely to grow by 14%. Meaning, Apple is expected to grow faster than the overall market in 2022,” said Tarun Pathak, research director at Counterpoint Research (5).

Apple Inc’s share in the Indian smartphone market has doubled in the past year, shipping over 6 million iPhones in India, the highest ever. And even as the overall smartphone shipments rose by 11%, Counterpoint analysts expect Apple to have another record year in India.

The fact that iPhone 12 is 5G ready also makes it more appealing than other non-5G options in the premium segment.

Narendra Singh, a research director at IDC India (6), believes that Apple will repeat 2021’s success this year. However, he believes that it would not change Apple’s market position.

As per Singh’s estimations, Apple is ranked #7, and it is unlikely to break into the top five. The top six vendors, Xiaomi, Samsung, Vivo, Oppo, Realme, and Transsion, are also expected to witness growth.

“Big players are leading the market, and they are getting bigger, or at least, no showing any signs of getting smaller,” said Singh. “India is the last standing market of its size even with the replacement of all these to 5G in the upcoming years. Then, there are also 500 million people who don’t use smartphones.”

Pathak, in agreement, said, “Apple is likely to slip from its top 10 positions in 2021 because of the expected shipments increase of Jio’s entry-level smartphones.”

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Investments in JioPhone Next

Both Google and Meta have invested over 4.5 billion USD in Jio, Reliance’s telecom business, India’s most prominent mobile service provider with over 420 million subscribers.

The JioPhone Next is one of Google’s latest attempts to reach the masses in emerging markets. It launched many programs, including Android One, to deliver budget smartphones with improved user experience in the past decade.

Back in 2017, at an event in India, Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, noted that several markets like India needs smartphones priced at 37 USD for mass adoption.

“The JioPhone Next is an affordable device designed for the Indian market. It is inspired by the belief that everyone in India should benefit from the internet’s opportunities. And to build it, we worked together to solve the challenges of complex designs and engineering. I am excited to see how millions of people will use these smartphones to improve their lives and communities,” stated Pichai in a statement at the launch of JioPhone.

It is also worth highlighting that JioPhone Next, which went for sale in November, has shipped 2 million units in December alone (7). The industry’s fastest-growing price range is between 145 USD to 264 USD (8), whereas, JioPhone next only costs about 87 USD.

According to industry analysts, JioPhone Next can disrupt the Indian smartphone market, the second-largest worldwide, and help the telecom network further solidify its dominance in the country (9).

Glance, also backed by Google, offers a short-form video platform called Roposo that combines entertainment and commerce and streams it straight from the lock screen. It makes both spending and streaming easier and habit-making.

Reliance aims to integrate Roposo and Glance into JioPhone’s OS. Notably, Glance already has over 188 million users across India and Asia.

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Mobile Gaming Boom in India

Unlike markets like Japan, where gaming consoles have deep roots, mobile gaming is the king in the Indian market. It is largely because of the increased smartphones penetration and cheaper internet after Reliance entered the telecom business in 2016.

The pandemic also fueled the boom in the Indian gaming market. The average time people spent playing games rose from over 2.5 hours a week pre-pandemic to 3.6 hours during the strict lockdown months in 2020, said Redseer.

Notably, game downloads have also doubled over that time and have remained 50% higher than pre-pandemic levels in 2021.

Investors have already noticed the growth in the gaming industry both inside and outside of India.

Fundraising by gaming firms has skyrocketed from a mere 34 million USD in 2016 to over 412 million USD in 2020, as per Boston Consulting Group (10).

India's mobile growth

Boston Consulting Group estimated the Indian gaming market at 1.8 billion USD in 2020. Although it is small compared to China’s massive 45 billion USD market, it is growing at a rapid pace.

“The Indian gaming market environment has witnessed some drastic changes because of the drop in internet prices and increased spread of smartphones. The broader use of digital payments has also made a significant impact,” said Ryoma Matsui, Director of Square Enix India (11).

One of the substantial beneficiaries of the recent surge is Dream11, an online fantasy sports platform. Established in 2008, the company boasts over 140 million users. It is also one of the country’s leading unicorns (12). In November, it had secured 840 million USD to push its valuation to 8 billion USD (13).

Another local game developer, Nazara technologies, also went public last March. Reportedly, it is the first IPO by an Indian gaming company. The company also sparked interest in the market because Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, a billionaire investor (also called the “Warren Buffet of India”), held a significant stake in Nazara.

Reportedly, India’s mobile gaming market is expected to rise by over 5 billion USD in revenue and hit 244 million users (about 16.7% of the population) by 2026.

Since over 500 million people still don’t have access to smartphones in India, we believe businesses have a massive opportunity to entice them with discounted phones.

It could lead to billions more in revenue from digital services like streaming, gaming, and payments, all sold from the lock screen.