The tiny South East Asian nation of Laos (population: 7 million) has welcomed the news that a local IT company has launched its own brand of smartphone. The new smartphone will start appearing in shops and agencies in Vientiane and around the country this month.
The product, branded ALO!, has been launched by the Lao-owned ALO Technology Co. Ltd. The newly-launched phone, called ALO! M5, operates on Android 6.0 over a quad-core CPU offering 4G connectivity; it has a 13-megapixel camera and one gigabyte storage, dual SIM, a five-inch touchscreen display and most other features smartphones currently have, including GPS.
At launch, the phone was advertised at 1.1 million kip; in other words, a surprisingly low US$135.
The CEO of ALO! is Thanousone Phonamat. He is under no allusions that it will be hard to compete with the big foreign smartphone brands in Laos, notably Samsung, Huawei and Apple’s iPhone. In the initial phase the company’s strategy is to focus its marketing on students and educational institutions.
ALO Technology is part of a larger IT group called Top Value Services (TVS). TVS is the only authorised Microsoft OEM partner in Laos and also has partnerships with Dell, Cisco, HP, Asus and other global IT companies. Thanousone noted that the company has a cooperation agreement with Microsoft to regularly update the software and programs so that students will be able to download to their devices.
BuddeComm was able to catch up with Thanousone and put some questions to him.
BC: What was the trigger for ALO! to start looking at introducing its own line of smartphone?
TP: ALO’s objective is to introduce a range of ICT devices initially to Lao market and eventually to the wider ASEAN market. The smartphone launch completes our planned product range for the moment, having now added the phone to our desktop, laptop and tablet products. The immediate objective for introducing the smartphone is to help market the ALO! brand. Creating a significant smartphone penetration will help expand brand recognition to the wider population, as well as allowing us to test and understand the market better. The mid-term objective is to launch more sophisticated models that address market needs based on the feedback gathered. In other words, this would be a Proof of Concept (POC) stage. It will allow us to secure investment if the POC is a success. Then we will go for a ‘big bang’ in the Lao market and the ASEAN region.
BC: Will there be some things in you smartphone offering that other brands do not offer?
TP: The phone will be pre-installed with Lao settings (fonts, themes, ringtones, etc) and many useful educational and Lao apps. We will also be focusing heavily on price competitiveness.
BC: Do you see your product being ‘Lao’ as giving you a competitive advantage?
TP: Yes and No. ‘Yes’ in the way that we can attract the Lao people based on their national pride. This should also be boosted by government support through the introduction of policies and programs to promote local brands. ‘No’ in the way that many potential customers will be concerned about the quality and will worry that a Lao product will not meet the standards they expect. Also I must say that the majority of Lao people still prefer to buy international branded products!
Clearly Thanousone and ALO have set themselves some ambitious goals.
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