GSMA, Motorola plan US$30 phone for the poor

Motorola has developed a mobile phone for developing countries costing $40, and expects to lower the cost to $30 next year.

Motorola will deliver a sub-US$40 mobile phone, the Emerging Market Handset, for customers in the developing world, it announced Tuesday at the 3GSM World Congress in Cannes. However, that's still not cheap enough for the GSM Association, which wants Motorola to produce one for US$30.

The association, whose members are mobile network operators, invited phone manufacturers to tender for a project to build a low-cost mobile phone to improve access to telecommunications services in developing countries. The project evolved in response to the concerns of network operators in those countries, which identified the cost of handsets as a major obstacle to market growth.

Already, there are 1.25 billion users of GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) phones around the world, according to the association.

"This is about where we are going to get the second billion customers from," said Craig Ehrlich, chairman of the association.

A group of operators in developing countries agreed to procure handsets together, and came up with a joint specification for a basic handset with a robust candy-bar form, weighing around 100 grams -- and costing just US$30. They wanted the phone to run for two hours in use or 50 hours on standby, store up to 250 numbers in its phone book, keep a record of the last 10 numbers dialled or missed, and offer SMS (Short Message Service) and voice mail, among other functions. They also wanted phone's on-screen menus to be available in English, French, Arabic, Thai, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese and Turkish.

The association then invited 18 manufacturers to tender for the project.

The association chose Motorola's bid as best meeting the criteria -- but the company had a head start, having decided in 2002 to begin work on a similar project, according to Ron Garriques, president of Motorola's personal devices business unit and an executive vice president.

The company unveiled its C100-series ultra low cost handset Monday at the 3GSM World Congress. Garriques expects to be able to sell these in quantity for under US$40 this year. "In 2006 we can hit US$30," he said.

Sunil Bharti Mittal, chief executive of Indian network operator Bharti Televentures, is pleased to see a US$40 handset on the way.

"I think this will get in an extra 50 to 100 million customers," he said.

"People ask me, 'How can you sustain a business at two cents a minute?' We can do it no problem. The inhibition was the cost of the handset," Bharti said.

In addition to Bharti Televentures, eight other operators have undertaken to purchase the US$30 phones, including Globe Telecom of the Philippines, Maxis Communications of Malaysia, Orascom Telecom Holding of Egypt and Singapore Telecom Mobile.

The 3GSM World Congress runs through Thursday.

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