Upwardly mobile – how India's middle classes are craving smartphones

India just overtook the US as the world’s second largest smartphone market. Halfway through 2015 research house IDC predicted that India would overtake the US by 2017 – but growth has been such that India is a year ahead of schedule.

2015 saw smartphone shipments to India grow by 23 per cent, with over 100 million devices sold, taking the number of smartphones in circulation in the country to more than 220 million. Of those shipped in 2015, more than one in two was LTE-enabled.

So what has brought this about? First and foremost it is important to acknowledge the sheer scale of India – given India’s population of over 1 billion people it was perhaps only a matter of time until the number of smartphones outstripped the considerably smaller US. But there is more going on – and when you look deeper into the marketplace you find a very different situation to most other countries.

Domestic manufacturers booming

One of the most interesting aspects of the Indian smartphone explosion is the focus on domestic manufacturers. In South Korea most users have a Samsung device – Korean in origin – but a global powerhouse of a brand at the same time. And while Samsung is the market leader in India, it has real competition from domestic brands like Micromax, Intex and Lava. Thanks to the government’s Make In India program, almost half of the mobile phones shipped in India in Q4 2015 were manufactured there.

Asia – a very mobile-first region

In 2015 it was revealed that all throughout Asia, mobile is the first device of choice for end-users. And what is true for Singapore and South Korea is also true in India. There are a variety of reasons behind it but a primary one is basic economics – Asian consumers tend to have less disposable income than their western counterparts so are more likely to have only one internet device – and the portability of the smartphone makes it first choice.

Connecting remote and rural end-users

Another big factor aiding smartphone proliferation is the sheer geography of the country. India is a vast place, and the logistics of installing fixed line broadband everywhere make it a huge undertaking. The Indian government has another project in place, ‘Digital India’, tasked with connecting 250,000 villages with wireless broadband by 2019. The initiative is taking the same approach as much of Africa, where 90 per cent of total broadband penetration is via mobile.

Mobile banking and payments on the up too

The convenience of managing your finances on the move is also helping drive smartphone uptake. India is now number four worldwide in mobile banking adoption, behind only China, South Africa and South Korea, and ahead of all the G7 countries. In a country as geographically dispersed as it is, this makes a lot of sense. Alongside this mobile payments are proving popular too, with 65 per cent of men and 54 per cent of women saying they prefer the ease of paying via their mobile carrier for mobile videos, credit and store payments and more.

Mobility changing everything

2016 is set to be the year the smartphone and mobility really go mainstream in India. Mobile ad spending is forecast to jump from the current 2 to 4 per cent growth up to between 15 and 20 per cent, making it the fastest-growing advertising segment in the country. Yet another government digital project, the Smart Cities Mission, has a goal of developing 100 smart cities throughout India, all powered by technology and focusing on mobility. These are exciting times for India and the smartphone boom driven by mobile broadband penetration is helping make all manner of advances possible.

Find out more about the Orange Business global presence, including India and other high-growth markets.

Steve Harris

I’ve been writing about technology for around 15 years and today focus mainly on all things telecoms - next generation networks, mobile, cloud computing and plenty more. For Futurity Media I am based in the Asia-Pacific region and keep a close eye on all things tech happening in that exciting part of the world.