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New Delhi: Bharti Airtel is hoping to rebuild its troubled telecom business as the country's second-largest telecom operator by subscribers is planning co-branded smartphone deals with handset manufacturers and bundled data and voice offers to slash the effective price of a smartphone to protect its 2G subscribers ahead of the low-priced JioPhone Next launch for the Diwali festive season.

The move assumes significance because after waging a long battle with Reliance Jio over tariff plans and subscriber base, Bharti Airtel is poised to take on Reliance Jio, and it is against giving any handset subsidy as opposed to arch-rival Jio, which is likely to heavily subsidise the JioPhone Next to keep the price affordable in an attempt to woo Airtel and cash-strapped Vodafone Idea's 2G users, according to a report in ET which cited people with knowledge of the matter as saying.

The Sunil Mittal-controlled telco has floated a request for proposal (RFP) for handsets. Further, manufacturers such as Lava, Karbonn and HMD Global are ready with possible devices and specifications, the financial daily mentioned. Airtel is examining the specifications for a possible smartphone in alliance with handset brands, but is awaiting Jio's pricing and offers.

It is important to note that the Jio Phone Next has been designed in tie-up with American internet giant Google and it is for those who are looking to upgrade from 2G to 4G connectivity. Reliance Jio and Google "have made considerable progress towards launching the much-awaited JioPhone Next, the made-for-India smartphone being jointly designed by the companies," Jio said in a statement last week. Recently, billionaire Mukesh Ambani-controlled Jio postponed the launch of its smartphone to around Diwali from September 10.

The publication quoted one of the people as saying, "Airtel's device offering is ready but the question is subsidy and if they would be able to match Jio's offering. Airtel has sorted out specifications but it will be difficult to match the pricing with subsidy for them . but it will come up with an offering."

Last month, news reports surfaced that Alphabet Inc.'s Google was in 'advanced stages of negotiations' with Bharti Airtel for 'nearly one year' now and a 'substantially large' deal is potentially happening.

Industry insiders are of the view that global semiconductor shortage and consequent price hike may put brakes on Jio's plan to provide big subsidies on its smartphone. Jio is said to be targeting to sell the 4G smartphone at Rs 3,500-4,000.

Airtel chief executive officer Gopal Vittal recently dumped the idea of offering handset subsidies, emphasising that Airtel had clarity on "how to deal with this (JioPhone Next)".
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