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India's Mobile Phone Hitmaker Essay

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TECHNOLOGY August 12, 2010, 5:00PM EST

India's Mobile Phone Hitmaker
Micromax is grabbing market share from Nokia by giving Indian consumers what they want: inexpensive, quality phones with long battery life
By Mehul Srivastava

On a hot summer afternoon in 2007, executives at a small Indian pay phone company called Micromax noticed a curious sight. In a village in the eastern part of the country, they watched people line up next to a man with a car battery strapped to the back of his bicycle and hand him a few rupees to plug their cell phones in for a half hour's worth of charge. The villagers' homes didn't have electricity. Less than a year later Micromax sold its first cell phone, the X1i. It came with an oversized battery, a small screen, and tweaked electronics that made the phone run for as long as five days, and on standby for as many as 30 days. "It was really the most obvious thing to do," says Vikas Jain, who co-founded the company in 1991 with three friends. "Here was something that provided customers a feature nobody else had bothered to give them—battery life." Micromax, based in Gurgaon, a city near New Delhi, has introduced 37 phones in just over a year and a half, designing them in India and manufacturing with partners in China. The company has kept its phones affordable—they start at $40—and tailored to local tastes. Few Micromax handsets bother with Wi-Fi, 3G, or GPS capabilities, for example. That keeps costs down in a country where there isn't much Internet access and very little 3G coverage. One phone doubles as a Nintendo Wii-like controller, allowing users to play games on a television game console. Another, marketed heavily with Bollywood-themed TV commercials, has costume jewelry embedded in it and swivels open to reveal a full keyboard. Micromax is selling about 1 million handsets each month, or about 4 percent of the $6.3 billion Indian market; Indian...

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