Indian smartphone companies allege GSMA shows favoritism towards Chinese brands
The smartphone market in India is dominated by Chinese companies which held three of the top five positions in terms of smartphone shipments last year. Their share is expected to increase this year further with OPPO’s sub-brand Realme aggressively pushing to onboard a major share of the Indian consumers. Meanwhile, Indian manufacturers have been reduced to marginal sales in the country and Micromax is the only company staying among the top 5. While this condition of Indian smartphone brands is due to a slow adaptation of new technologies, they are accusing that GSMA’s favoritism towards Chinese brands is likely to be blamed for this slowdown.
Several Indian phonemakers have alleged that GSMA – the international trade body which represents almost 1200 telecom operators and allots a part of the IMEI numbers to all cellular devices – has been biased in favor of Chinese companies. According to a report by the Economic Times, Indian companies have complained that GSMA offers huge discounts to Chinese manufacturers while they have to pay the full allotment fee for Type Allocation Codes.
Type Allocation Codes or TACs are the first eight digits of the IMEI numbers allotted to all devices which use GSM connections. ET notes that GSMA waived the fee that Chinese manufacturers would have otherwise had to pay between 2010 and 2017. On the contrary, Indian companies were “unfairly” asked to pay $5-6 million (~₹350-415 million) cumulatively.
Indian companies that have protested these charges include Celkon, Micromax, DataWind, HiTech, Karbonn, Lemon, Maxx, and Ziox. These manufacturers have sought a full refund of the TAC allotment fees paid by them during the aforementioned period and have also alleged that this disparity against them has also led to an “anti-competitive environment“. Under this, allege the brands, Chinese companies have flourished and established a stronghold in developing markets like India.
GSMA has admitted to this difference in fees but has opposed to the allegations of bias. The telecom body said that it is “working with the Indian government and relevant handset manufacturers to understand their concerns.” Citing confidentiality, GSMA has refrained from offering any other detail about these discussions. However, it cited “regulator barriers outside of its control” which prevented it from charging the similar fees in different regions until 2017.
Over the last few years, fierce pricing from Chinese manufacturers has significantly reduced the share of Indian companies in the smartphone as well as the feature phone markets. Whether this is genuinely a case of unfair treatment by GSMA or the Indian brands’ insecurity of being wiped out of business, is something we shall learn in future.