Freedom 251: India is rapidly going towards massive digitalization. The current government is making its presence felt on the online platform through many social networking portals and also encouraging us to embrace the changes it is bringing in. In so many years since independence, now we are seeing massive waves of modernisation and every day we come across news about a few government officials interacting with the people on social media platforms. People are reporting different issues and getting the resolution of their problems through social media.
The government is aiming to ensure that different government services are available on a digital platform to reduce human errors and give quick and efficient services to us. A very important part of this campaign is empowering us by increasing the digital literacy of India. To achieve this objective, the government has been able to secure investments of close to USD 3.5 trillion from national and foreign technology giants with a view to generate jobs in the country and improve the infrastructure needed to spread the digital waves to the furthest corners of the country.
The government is encouraging the use of smartphones and helping to promote home-grown smartphone makers over foreign imported brands. Many indigenous smartphone makers have come with smartphones within a budget to show their support towards the government’s initiative of Digital India. Ringing Bells is one such company which announced its arrival and promised to play a huge role in the government’s initiative of Digital India, with the smartphone named Freedom 251.
Inception of Freedom 251
On February 17th, 2016, a Noida based company Ringing Bells Pvt Ltd launched its first smartphone called Freedom 251.The evening saw top-ranked government officials at a very pompous event where this smartphone, then touted as the world’s cheapest smartphone was launched at a promotional price INR 251 which is a tad less than USD 4. A feature-rich phone at that price point, Freedom 251 is a dual sim, 3G enabled devices with a 4 inch IPS display.
It is powered by a 1.3 GHZ quad core processor and 1 gigabyte of RAM under its hood and 8 GB of internal storage for plenty of applications. There is a 32 GB expandable memory option with a hefty 1450 mah battery and had all the regular sensors to make the phone a powerful package.
The device is android powered and has android lollipop embedded to boost its efficiency. The phone was advertised in top news dailies across India the next day. Ringing Bells invited online bookings for the device to be sold at the promotional price for all bookings made from 18th to 21st February.
The officials from the company Ringing Bells said that they had introduced this device to support the government’s Digital India and Make in India initiative. The company aimed to sell close to 5 million units of the device by June 2016. They aimed to bring a revolution in the world of smartphones in India by introducing Freedom 251.
Public Response and Company Reactions
The offer was too good to refuse and too good to believe. Experts were of the opinion that it was an unbelievable price for such a device as the pricing was too less to be a genuine business proposition. However, the public grabbed the chance, and the website saw huge turnouts and trending topics on social media portals were all related to Freedom 251. The company had accepted 30,000 bookings before its website crashed on the very first day of sales due to too much traffic.
The website came back up, and at the end of the third day, the company claimed to be have received an amount of INR 17.5 million as booking amount from the public. At this top government officials said that Freedom 251 was a scam as the prototype devices circulated by the company appeared to be rebranded devices of another manufacturer. Their words came true when Ringing Bells suddenly decided to refund the booking amount of the first 30,000 customers and said they are doing so because of the on-going speculation. The CEO of ringing Bells said that the customers would need to pay in cash once the handset was delivered to them around June 2016.
Criticism and Controversy
Right from its inception Freedom 251 was labeled as a scam. Although its launch was presided over by top government officials, other government spokespersons tried to distant themselves and the government from the idea saying that the government did not support this scam initiative.
A ruling party MP filed a lawsuit in Allahabad High Court against the owner of Ringing Bells on the charges of cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property the court, however, dismissed the case a premature. The Indian Cellular Association expressed its disbelief that it would not be possible for any entity to sell the cellular device at the announced promotional price even with full government subsidy.
The ICS requested the telecom minister to intervene and complained about the government officials being present at the launch event. On 20th February government investigation agencies raided their office regarding an investigation of BIS mark not being there on the prototypes. Freedom 251 caused, even more, controversy when it was revealed that the marketed prototypes were in fact rebadged Adcom devices. In response to this Adcom threatened to sue Ringing Bells.
Eventually, they did not proceed with the lawsuit as Ringing Bells rolled out its first batch of 5,000 Freedom 251 smartphones on 9th July 2016 and they appeared to be completely different from the earlier prototypes in terms of color and looks.
Another reason was that the device looked like a cheap iPhone rip off with most of the icons looking same as an Apple iPhone. Looking at all the controversy getting created around the device the payment gateway provider PayUBiz decided that it would release payments to Ringing Bells once the promised smartphones were dispatched. The dreams of millions came crashing when the Telecom Ministry, after examining the device said it was not possible to sell it at a price below INR 2300.It was the last nail in the coffin on Freedom 251 as the declaration by the telecom ministry was unofficially saying that, indeed Freedom 251 is a scam.
After delivering 5,000 units on 9th July 2016, the company Ringing Bells said it was in the process of delivering the second lot on 65,000 devices to its customers. The CEO of the company also asked for an INR 50,000 crores subsidy to help it stay true on the promise it made off selling 5 million units at the affordable price of INR 251. He also claimed that with this subsidy he would be able to dish out his Freedom 251 smartphone to 750 million people. His pleas fell on deaf ears as the government did not take the risk to dole out that kind of ungodly sum of money to the CEO of Ringing Bells who already has a history of scamming people.
According to last published reports, the CEO of Ringing Bells was arrested on 23rd February 2017 in Ghaziabad after a phone distributor made a complaint that Ringing Bells had not supplied them the cellular devices they had paid for. The distributor going by the name Ayam Enterprises claimed to have received handsets worth only INR 1.3 million whereas they had paid INR 3 Million to Ringing Bells for the handsets. The spokesperson for Ayam Enterprises claimed to have sent multiple reminders about sending the rest of the handsets or returning the balance amount back, before putting in a formal complaint.
Freedom 251 was a dream shown by Ring Bells to break the shackles of poverty and poor connectivity that this vast nation has suffered from since centuries. Many had high hopes for the company, but they could not deliver on the promise they made. As a start-up, they had a very good idea of bringing smart cellular devices within everyone’s reach. Yet they lacked enough foresight to see that their idea was too costly to be bundled within INR 251.