Oppo launches first overseas 5G lab in India, a country still waiting for mass roll-out of the next generation mobile network

Jane Zhang
·4-min read

Chinese smartphone maker Oppo has launched a 5G innovation lab in India, its first outside China, at a time when relations between New Delhi and Beijing have been in the doldrums after a violent border dispute earlier this year.

Located at Oppo’s Hyderabad R&D centre in southern India’s Telangana state, Oppo said that the lab will help it to promote its 5G capabilities in the country. The Shenzhen-based company also said it plans to open three more innovation labs that will focus on cameras, power & batteries, and performance.

“While we work towards developing core technologies for the 5G era and strengthen our overall ecosystem, we also aim to support India in its 5G journey,” said Tasleem Arif, Oppo’s India vice-president and head of R&D, in a statement on Tuesday. “The technologies developed at the lab should help our global footprint while making good on our vision to make India an innovation hub.”

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Chinese smartphone makers such as Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo have a large share of the handset market in India – which is skewed towards the budget segment – although Samsung took over top spot in the third quarter for the first time since the fourth quarter of 2018, according to data from industry research firm Counterpoint. Oppo, budget smartphone maker Realme, and Vivo are all owned by the same Chinese company — BBK Electronics.

In June, the Indian government banned more than a hundred Chinese apps after a deadly clash between Chinese and Indian troops in a disputed Himalayan border region fanned nationwide anti-China sentiment.

“India is the second-largest market for Oppo after China, representing about 20 per cent of the vendor’s smartphone shipments in the third quarter,” said Ahmed Ahmed, Malaysia-based market analyst for research firm IDC. “Despite the political tensions … consumer demand for affordable smartphones has remained high with … more consumers needing smartphones for home-based learning and epayments [during the pandemic].”

Opening local development centres also allows brands to deliver localised products, added Ahmed, who said the centre would allow Oppo to better prepare for 5G take-off in the country.

With Huawei facing hurdles in Europe, Chinese smartphone brand Oppo eyes expansion

The mass roll-out of 5G networks remains uncertain though. At an industry conference earlier this month, billionaire and chairman of Reliance Industries Mukesh Ambani said that Reliance Jio would roll out 5G services in the second half of 2021, according to a Bloomberg report. However, at the same event, the head of India’s No 2 telco Bharti Airtel said that India would not be ready for 5G for another two to three years.

India has historically lagged behind the developed world in pushing out new telecommunication standards, despite narrowing the gap in recent times. Currently, most 5G phones in the country still operate on 4G networks.

“Tensions between India and China have been a hot topic in the past few months, but we have yet to see a significant impact on the purchase decisions of mass market customers,” said Canalys research analyst Varun Kannan. “However, the tensions have seen Chinese smartphone brands act more conservatively in recent months, by reducing their marketing spend, and carefully trying to project the image that they are important contributors to, and stakeholders in, the economic future of India.”

Oppo’s head of global sales told the Post in October that the company’s smartphone sales had not been affected much by rising anti-China sentiment in India and that it was planning more investment in the world’s second-most populous country. The company’s shipments grew 30 per cent year-on-year in the third quarter in India, driven mainly by demand for its budget segment devices.

Separately, Chinese telecoms giant Huawei Technologies said on Tuesday that it was setting up a 5G+ (higher band) industrial internet innovation centre in China with the Shenyang Institute of Automation, under the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The centre will focus on industrial applications of 5G, including standards definition, Huawei said in a statement.

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