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Newsroom diaries 2016: Freedom 251, the story that made us question technology

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series of newsroom diaries by various members of the Firstpost team. These diaries will provide you with the journalist’s recollections of a particular bit of news coverage in 2016 in which she/he was deeply involved.

I’ve been covering technology for some years now. But on the evening of 16 February this year, news came in of a sub-Rs 500 smartphone to be launched in India. Personally, I considered it to be a con job. It seemed as tricky as a chain-marketing sham to make money from innocent customers. I was rather excited about the upcoming Mobile World Congress, which typically sets the pace for the kind of devices we are to expect through the rest of the year. When someone suggested that this could be a story worth following, I brushed it aside.

Freedom 251. IBNLiveFreedom 251. IBNLive

Freedom 251. IBNLive

The next morning I was proven wrong. And how. On the morning of 17 February, newspapers in the northern parts of India ran full front page ads of the Freedom 251, by Ringing Bells. Colleagues who would otherwise not care as much about what we covered in technology were following up by the minute. I was getting phone calls and messages about this latest sensation. That’s exactly what Freedom 251 was – a sensation.

I had colleagues in office who were interested in buying a dozen handsets. A dozen? I thought to myself. But that’s exactly the kind of hysteria I was witnessing. While the initial joy of discovering a product as cheap as the Freedom 251 was behind us, we knew we had to go deeper. We’d have to break the myth it was. I ridiculed the product. Fundamentally, I was convicted of my idea that India needs devices, but what the Freedom 251 offers somehow doesn’t make it for me. I was criticised on social media for my stand – going against the wave of having an Indian product. I was accused of being critical and pessimistic when the need was to support Indian products. I guess that’s typical of social media conversations these days. Especially in India.

We analysed the product, the specification sheet that the company had put out. Our finding was that it was simply not possible to manufacture a device at that price point. People didn’t want to accept that this simply wasn’t possible. It’s like saying everyone has the possibility of winning a lottery. Mass hysteria begins. Then no one wants to know that the lottery is a hoax. During the days of the initial surge in interest, Apple, Microsoft, Google and Facebook all seemed pale in comparison.

We worked towards getting access to the device. Media in Delhi were invited to a launch event. As I always think, Delhi is important. So yes, media in Delhi tried the device out. And did mention on social media how the device gives mixed reactions. There were a few who said ‘what more do you expect in Rs 251?’ while others said, ‘feels like a scam.’ And sitting in Mumbai, I was getting mixed reactions from my friends in Delhi who had tried the device. But even they were given access to a ‘prototype’ with the logo of another manufacturer. Fine so far. But even that manufacturer distanced themselves from the company – Ringing Bells. I’m glad today there’s no mention of Freedom 251 and that India has finally moved beyond. Moreover, our initial stand of doubting the feasibility stands vindicated.

But what I have with me now are a couple of thousands of emails. All sent with personal details. I’ve been on a deletion spree, but every time I embark on that task, something more important comes along, and I procrastinate the deletion. It’s funny how someone could send me emails with an order of two dozen Freedom 251 handset. I’m not remotely connected to them. I’m glad though that no one sent me money, else they’d be demanding refunds! I’m probably going to spend a few hours around New Years cleaning up my inbox.

First Published On : Dec 31, 2016 09:40 IST

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‘Government is not partnering Ringing Bells’: Freedom 251 manufacturers issue clarification on new handset

Ever since its launch on 17 February, Freedom 251 — little-known manufacturer Ringing Bells’ ultra-budget smartphone — has been at the centre of a storm of speculation, with questions being raised about its

price tag


how it is manufactured

and its


. Nevertheless, enthusiasm for the Rs 251 handset has not abated with people lining up to buy the Freedom 251 — including some placing orders in the comments section of the

Tech2 website


Editor’s note: At the time of writing, Tech2 is not in the business of mobile retail


To clear up doubts and speculation about Freedom 251, Ringing Bells Private Limited’s president Ashok Chaddha issued a few clarifications:

1. There seems a problem with the payment gateway while ordering the phone from the freedom251.com website. Why is this and how soon will it be resolved? Have sales stopped permanently?

This problem occurred on the morning of 18 February, consequent to the pleasant deluge of viewers where even the high performance servers of our payment gateway and our main server providers could not cope!! (There were 20 lakh requests on 18 February at the peak load and the total number of registrations received on the day were 3,70,15,000!!)

We addressed the problem on a ‘war footing’ and with the help of our associates, were back online by 6 am by morning on 19 February! Registrations have continued smoothly thereafter.

Freedom 251. IBNLive

Freedom 251. IBNLive

2. How many handsets have been sold so far?

30,000-plus and these were on Day 1, reflecting the fact that our payment gateway could not support the transaction load and as per guidelines, have been deposited in the nodal account with the payment gateway, where the company will claim payment only after submission of delivery proof.

We have had 3.7 crore registrations on Day 1 and 2.47 crore on Day 2 as of 7.49 pm.

3. Why has Freedom 251 got Adcom branding on the front panel? Is it being manufactured by Adcom? And why was the branding covered by a whitener? What was that for? Even if it was just for a demo and a sample phone why did the company fringe into other company products for that, why could they not they just order fresh samples from wherever they were trading?

We just wanted to show a sample/prototype of what the handsets will look like. This is not the final piece. We obviously wanted to provide “Made in India” handsets as that is the core of our vision. We did a quick and intensive search and located the components but regarding the touch plate, we faced a problem in view of its fragile nature in addition to the scratch-proof requirements of the piece.

Adcom is an Indian company and we were able to source from them. In view of the shortage of time and given that these were to serve only as prototypes, we went ahead. We will clearly mention that the final Freedom 251 manufactured/assembled in India will be identical in terms of specifications, ie no change! There may be some changes in curvature/button placements for aesthetics, if at all.

4. Deeper media investigation suggests Adcom is a local manufacturer of IT products and their spokesperson had no clue that their product is being re-branded and sold like this. This can be a potential lawsuit.

You may speak to Sanjiv Bhatia — the director of Adcom — and he will confirm the true version (of events) to you.

5. The promised preloaded apps for fishermen, farmers and women’s safety are not present on the mobile handset that the media received.

These will be on the “Final Freedom 251” with our custom-designed new user interface.

6. The user interface icons are exactly like the Apple iPhone, including icons like web browsers etc, which can be construed as copyright infringement

As will be noted on a closer look, the UI, even on the prototype, is not identical to Apple. In any case, we will have our custom-designed new user interface for our Final Freedom 251.

7. The phone is not listed on the BIS certifications page, why is this?

Application is under filing and we expect to have the certification in hand well before delivery commences.

8. All 3G devices are supposed to be registered with Qualcomm as part of the licensing agreement but the Freedom 251 is not showing up, why is this?

At present we are using ‘Spreadtrum’ chipset, then why do we need to register with Qualcomm?

9. The phone is running on Android, but is not showing in a list on Android partners either. Why is this?

We are registered with Google Android Developers Platform (see below).


10. Can you provide a list of customer care centres as promised? The media is getting queries from customers about customer care centres; the only details they have found as customer support is an email and phone number.

Click here to download the list

11. If the actual phone is not ready, why was a re-branded different phone given to the media. Is the much hyped Freedom 251 a concept in the air only?

When we design a concept, we produce a prototype to demonstrate. Then we test the acceptability from the target audience. Once this is accepted, we take this prototype to the design house to design the chipset, the mould and then we decide on the actual add-ons like the buttons, the colour, screen quality etc. We did not distribute the handsets, we handed over prototypes to assess the acceptability and validate our concept.

12. How is the Indian government partnering with a company with no proven track record? BJP MP Kirit Somaiya has raised questions and written to both TRAI and the Ministry of Telecom to investigate the issue. This follows mobile industry body Indian Cellular Association’s (ICA) letter to Union Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Friday to get to the depth of the issue, saying the rate could not be below Rs 3,500 even after a subsidised sale. They are willing to give all the technical assistance.

The Indian government is not partnering the company. We will comply with all required regulations of TRAI and telecom authorities in India.

13. What about the other handsets? People have been complaining about no delivery or even an order confirmation? Is this just a con game?

We have delivered Rs 1.7 crore worth of phones so far. In addition, PayU (the payment gateway) has received Rs 1.75 crore against our handset online bookings in Phase 1 and here, as we have committed, we will claim our money only after we complete delivery on 25 February, 2016, and after we submit proof of delivery.

14. Some mediapersons reaching the Ringing Bells office in Noida found it to be deserted. Is it even a genuine company with a manufacturing plant?

Our corporate office is at B44, Sector 63, Noida 201301. All are welcome to come to our office and we will be privileged to greet you!

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