Indian Mobile Sales Flat as Subscriber Growth Accelerates

New mobile connections in India, at 178.26 million, were 57 percent higher last year than in 2008, according to data from the country's Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

Growth in mobile phones sales in India was however flat last year, with 101.54 million units shipped, research firm IDC India said on Friday.

A large number of users still buy smuggled or unbranded mobile phones to cut costs, said Naveen Mishra, lead analyst for mobile handsets research at IDC India. Although IDC India does not track this market, generally referred to as the grey market, it estimates that demand for phones smuggled in without paying duty, and unbranded phones usually of Chinese origin, could be over 2 million units a month, he added.

IDC India only tracks vendors that have established significant operations in the country, including distribution and post-sales support.

The wide difference between the number of new connections, as reported by TRAI, and sales of new handsets last year can also be put down to existing mobile users holding on to older connections at a nominal cost, while acquiring new connections and SIM (subscriber identity module) cards from other operators, Mishra said. Data cards for laptops and fixed wireless phones also get included in the new connections, and people taking these connections don't need to buy mobile handsets, he added.

Nokia had the largest share last year among the branded makers at 54.1 percent, but it was lower than the 56.8 percent share it had in the 12 months ended June 30 last year, according to IDC India.

The company is still the market leader but its share is bound to go down as more vendors have entered the Indian market, Mishra said.

The strongest competition to the large multinational brands is coming from Indian branded vendors of look-alikes of popular models of top branded mobile phones. The 'copycat' look-alikes are often available for as little as one-tenth of the average sales value of a smartphone, Mishra said.

The Indian vendors do not invest in design or manufacture, and instead get the products contract manufactured in Taiwan or China, Mishra said. Intellectual property rights are notoriously difficult to enforce in the case of look-alike mobile phones, he added.

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