Thursday, 18 February 2016

What's the wisdom in Freedom 251?

Leave alone the illiterate, are literate Indians making an informed decision on buying this world's cheapest smartphone?


By Francis Adams


Image courtesy:

While a section of India's youth and other patriots were screaming for Aazadi (freedom) at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, a few kilometers away in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, a relatively unknown cellphone company, Ringing Bells Private Limited was preparing to showcase to the country's more than 1.25 billion citizens, the world's cheapest smartphone named Freedom 251.

From the time news about this smartphone began doing the rounds, enthusiastic, curious buyers (including many of my friends, colleagues, acquaintances) and skeptics alike have been asking one question: Is it possible to make a functional, usable smartphone for Rupees 251 (US$3.66)? [It's total price is Rs 291, including Rs 40 for shipping the handset at your doorstep].

Ashok Chadha. Image courtesy:
Yes, said the company's president Ashok Chadha, his confirmation supported by Ringing Bells director Mohit Goel. "This is just the first step, and over time we will introduce more handsets, at different price points as well. And in a year or two we want to launch a Bell SIM card which will also have some unique features," Goel told

Pankaj Mohindroo.
Image courtesy:
Ironically, The Indian Cellular Association, headquartered in close proximity to Ringing Bells, in Connaught Place, New Delhi thinks otherwise. The ICA president, Pankaj Mohindroo, has apparently written to the Union Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, saying: "For your kind information, the bill of material (BOM) value for a product like this when sourced from the cheapest supply chain cost approximately $40 (Rs 2,700). And this, when translated into retail price after addition of applicable duties, taxes and with distribution and retail margins would be at least Rs. 4,100 while the product is being sold at Rs. 251."

According to, which has published the content of this letter, Mohindroo wrote to Ravi Shankar Prasad (@rsprasad), the Cabinet Minister who heads the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY), expressing concern and exhorting him to get to the root of this development. The ICA has claimed that "even if the product is sold at lower margins in an e-commerce type subsidized sale, the final consumer price cannot come below $52-55 (about Rs. 3,500-3,800)."

Mohindroo's letter alerts the DeitY to sit up and take notice. "We are bringing this to your kind notice, so that a scenario does not arise in the future, where the nation, the government of India, industry and trade are seen in a poor light," the letter said.

The ICA is convinced that since there is no visible mobile operator subsidy involved in the Freedom 251 pricing and sale, it is not the way the Indian mobile market operates. The association has offered to provide any technical assistance, if required, to the DeitY.

In all this skirmish, the fact baffling you is:

1) Did Ringing Bells take such a giant step without consulting or informing the ICA and the DeitY? Mohindroo, who is the founder and national president of the ICA, has been appointed by the Government of India as Chairman of the ‘Task Force on Mobile Phone Manufacturing’ in the country. Both, the ICA and Ringing Bells have a common aim of promoting Digital India, Skill India, and Make in India.

2) The ICA says its prominent members include Apple, Samsung, Micromax, Microsoft, Nokia, Motorola, HTC, Gionee, Blackberry, Sony, LG, Panasonic, Karbonn, Spice, Intex, Lava and more. It does not have any reference on its website to Ringing Bells Private Limited.
Image courtesy:

3) Ringing Bells, as reported by, has very categorically claimed that it has neither received any subsidy from the government in its endeavor, nor is the government involved in promoting its business. The company has said that Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament Murali Manohar Joshi, who presided over the official product launch on Wednesday is a longtime friend and has only offered his vision and guidance. While websites, including the Daily News & Analysis, BGR and a few others published reports headlining "India’s cheapest smartphone at Rs 251 to be launched by Manohar Parrikar today", The Hindu Business Line and Yahoo India News, on Thursday, reported the Union Defence Minister as having unveiled the Freedom 251.

BJP MP Murali Manohar Joshi presiding over the launch.
Image courtesy:

4) The IBN Live's technology Journalist, Ankit Tuteja (@tutejankit), wrote: "The Freedom 251 looks like yet another iPhone clone, not only on the exterior (complete with the circular home button) but even the app icons appear like a rip-off of what's found on iOS. The phone also appears to be a rebranded version of another phone marketed in India by New Delhi-based Adcom. The Adcom Ikon 4 (listed on a number of online shopping sites) shares the same looks and specifications as the Ringing Bells Freedom 251, including the appearance of the Apple-like icons." If this be true, it would be interesting to see what Apple, which is a member of the ICA, will have to say after checking the Freedom 251 closely. The latest to probe in this line is by the Hindustan Times, which published a report "Fake In India: Freedom 251 makers justify copying Apple’s designs". The HT said that when it asked Ringing Bells about possible Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) violation, the company's technical head Vikas Sharma said: “We used Apple’s icons because Apple hasn’t copyrighted its designs." HT has vowed to unravel more details claiming it has sought Apple's response. "This, of course, is completely untrue. Apple has patents for everything -- including the rounded edges of the rectangular screen of the iPad - and its app icons are copyrighted too, " the website said, adding "The Hindustan Times has reached out to Apple for a comment and will update this story when it comes in."

5) Ringing Bells, so far, is yet to respond whether it has received approval from the Bureau of Indian Standards. has said that "All phones sold in India must be certified by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). Getting this certification done is both time consuming and expensive. However, it appears that the BIS registration of the Ringing Bells Freedom 251 has not been done, as it is not listed in the list of manufacturers registered by BIS. This means that if the phone is a new device made by Ringing Bells, then it has not been certified as safe for use in India." The BIS is also the authority governing and enforcing the manufacture and correct usage of the National flag of India, which Ringing Bells has used on the back on Freedom 251.

You can only hope that Ringing Bells takes all the authoritative bodies, skeptics and pointers posed at the product into consideration, clears up the doubts and succeeds in having Freedom 251 in the hands of more than one million Indians each month, a target it is aiming to achieve. The handset has pre-installed Apps, such as, Women Safety, Swachh Bharat, Fisherman, Farmer, Medical, a heart-warming aspect, among other social media Apps like Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and GooglePlay. This way not only the illiterate, literate and the educated Indians will take pride in owning a Freedom 251, but Ringing Bells can also use the platform to export the handset, in a big way.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Surprised to see a device being sold at such price...How are they making profit...

    And yes definitely a copy of iPhone in terms of exterior looks.

    Nonetheless, would like to get one when available for sale again.

  3. Its a clear sign... One must really be choosy when deciding to go for such products... If the company can make profit out if nowhere... Why are we people even investing their small investments here when they are clear..that this is next to impossible... A product cannot be delivered at such cost...

    Yet we Indians out of curiosity tend to bend and are ready to take a shot thinking it just to be 251 inr...

    But ultimately it counts....