Get Ready for Low Cost Smartphones

Low cost smartphonesLow cost smartphones are fast rising newcomers in the mobile industry. Just 3 years ago, it was pretty tough to find a smartphone for less than $200. This year they are evening the score. According to IDC and the Economist of the 1.2 billion ‘gizmos’ that will be shipped this year, almost half will cost less than $200 and one-fifth will cost less than $100.

Mozilla is trying to take this trend down to the next level. Earlier this year in Mobile World Congress, the company has announced it plans bring $25 smartphones to market. Or as the Mozilla’s PR stated these low cost smartphones are for “the large number of people who can’t afford high-end models like Apple’s iPhone 5S and Samsung’s Galaxy S5 that cost hundreds of dollars.”

Low cost smartphones have huge potential in emerging economies worldwide and lower-income sectors. The reduced price barrier creates the opportunity for device manufacturers to sell more devices and for mobile operators to increase ARPU by adding data services to existing voice-only subscribers.

However, to achieve the low cost targets, the device manufacturers will need to make tough design decisions about the mobile chipsets, memory capacity, etc.

This raises a critical question – Will the performance be good enough?

Mobile applications and internet data are key uses of smartphones. A device operating with weaker processing power may not have the ‘horsepower’ needed to run rich-media applications and games. Limited storage capacity could significantly impair video viewing capabilities, especially when a delays are added due to network congestion. If these new, low cost devices fail to perform at an acceptable level, it will affect service adoption.

Instead of focusing only on the devices themselves for the answer, I would like to offer an alternative  direction for the resolution – the mobile network. If you recall ‘thin’ client PC debates were very popular about 15 years ago. The barrier The rise of low cost smartphonesto this concept and, later, the key to success were Internet speed and response times. Now that the Internet has achieved the required acceleration, there is an explosion of cloud-based services replacing popular desktop applications – even Microsoft Office 365.

What if we used the thin client analogy for low-cost smartphones and placed the burden of processing on the mobile network?  Similar to the fast internet required to enable thin PC clients, thin smartphones require speed and short response times from the mobile network.

Although mobile networks have come a very long way from 2G, 3G and now 4G, there is still a huge gap in response times (RTT) in comparison to fixed networks. The physical distance and complex network topology, which every request travels across, are major contributors. Simply rolling out bigger LTE pipes is not enough. A new delivery paradigm is required. To capitalize on the thin smartphone potential, mobile operators will need to explore new innovative technologies, like Saguna’s Open-RAN, that are specifically designed to reduce response times and accelerate network performance.