Freedom 251, world's cheapest smartphone, launches in India for $5

Indian phone maker Ringing Bells has launched a $5 smartphone.

Phone maker Ringing Bells halts orders within hours after website crashes due to high traffic

The Freedom 251 smartphone was unveiled a day ahead of today's launch and is being sold for 251 rupees ($5) - a price that sceptics said was far lower than what its components would cost. (Ringing Bells)

Indian phone maker Ringing Bells launched a $5 smartphone today, with huge customer demand promptly crashing the little-known company's website hours after the phone went on sale.

The Freedom 251 was unveiled a day ahead of the launch and is being sold for 251 rupees ($5) — a price that skeptics said was far lower than what its components would cost.

The phone has a 4-inch display. The screen resolution isn't specified on the company's website, but is being reported as 960 x 540, which would make it smaller and less sharp than most current generation smartphones available in North America.

It also has a relatively poor camera — the rear camera is 3 MP and its front camera is just 0.3 MP.

However, its power, storage and battery compare favourably to more expensive phones – it has a 1.3 GHz quad-core processor, 1 GB RAM and 8 GB of storage that's expandable to 32 GB with an SD card. And it has the same battery capacity as the iPhone 5, 1450 mAh. 

It runs Android 5.1 Lollipop at a time when many new phones are starting to use Android 6.0 Marshmallow, the latest version of Google's mobile operating system. 

The smartphone went on sale Thursday morning but the company later stopped accepting orders after its website crashed. "We humbly submit that we are therefore taking a pause," it said in an apology to customers.

Ringing Bells, based in the Delhi satellite city of Noida, was set up only last year and the launch event for the new phone on Wednesday night was attended by a senior leader from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party.

Company president Ashok Kumar Chadha said the Android smartphone would have pre-installed apps that tie into Modi initiatives such as 'Make in India' and 'Clean India'.

The phone's rear camera is 3.2 MP and its front camera just 0.3 MP. (Ringing Bells)

"Let us see what can we do to bring about a real liberation of Freedom to all our brothers and sisters," he said in a speech, referring to the name of the new phone to make a play on words.

In its notice to customers the company said it was receiving 600,000 hits per second on its website, although it did not say how many of those hits converted to real orders.

For comparison, Google processes an estimated 40,000 search requests per second.
 
India is Asia's fastest growing smartphone market with 103.6 million smartphones sold in 2015. Most Indians still buy cheap smartphones that cost less than $200.

Highly subsidized?

Although the company didn't discuss the economics behind the operation, analysts questioned the business model.
 
"It looks like it's highly subsidized by the company and it's not clear how they plan to sustain this," said Tarun Pathak 
an analyst with Counterpoint Technology Research.

Previous attempts at frugal engineering in India have not been very successful.

In 2008, Indian government announced a $10 laptop that ended up costing over $100 before it made it to market.

A $20 Android tablet sold by Datawind, a company started by two brothers who grew up in Brampton, Ont., failed to capture significant market share, despite a government subsidy scheme.

First deliveries of the Freedom 251 phone are not expected before the middle of the year, according to Ringing Bells. 

With a file from CBC News

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.