“2G-Mukt and 5G-Yukt.” These are the two goals Reliance Industries (RIL) chairman Mukesh Ambani outlined for the group’s digital venture while speaking at the company’s 44th annual general meeting (AGM) on Thursday. While the 2G-Mukt objective will be achieved with the launch of the most affordable 4G smartphone, developed in partnership with Google, on September 10; the 5G road map would be a combination of Google Cloud and Jio’s homegrown technological solutions.
“JioPhone Next is powered by an extremely optimised version of the Android operating system. While being ultra-affordable, JioPhone Next is packed with cutting-edge features like the Google Assistant, automatic read-aloud of screen text, language translation, smart camera with augmented reality filters and much more. This is testimony to a global technology company and a national technology champion working jointly to make a break-through product,” Ambani told shareholders.
Though Ambani did not reveal the price of the affordable smartphone, it is expected to be within the Rs 5,000 bracket. He said he was hopeful that with the launch of the phone, the 300 million subscribers who are still on 2G feature phones would migrate to 4G services. Through its earlier JioPhone which was not exactly a smartphone but offered some features which conventional feature phones didn’t, Jio was able to ramp up its subscriber base substantially. However, a saturation point was reached and it started lagging Bharti Airtel in terms of monthly subscriber additions for several months, a trend which got overturned only since February when it came out with a slew of new tariff packages.
Analysts maintain that an affordable smartphone would not only help Jio garner more subscribers but also help improve its average revenue per user (Arpu).
Rival, Bharti Airtel also feels that an affordable smartphone would create a better ecosystem and help competitors too. “Airtel welcomes the low-end smartphone initiative from Reliance Jio and Google. We support every effort that triggers the upgrade of feature phones to smartphones so as to bring more Indians online,” a Bharti Airtel spokesperson told FE. “Our experience has shown that as customers with entry-level devices upgrade to quality smartphones priced over Rs 7,000, they demonstrate a strong preference for Airtel’s brand and network,” the spokseperson added.
Sundar Pichai, CEO, Google and Alphabet who joined the AGM virtually said, “Our vision is to bring affordable access to information for Indians in their own language, to build new products and services for India’s unique needs, and to empower businesses with technology. I’m excited that today, we can announce the next steps in this vision, starting with a new, affordable Jio smartphone, created with Google. It is built for India and it will open up new possibilities for millions of new users who will experience the internet for the very first time”.
The partnership with Google for developing an affordable smartphone was announced by RIL in its AGM last year.
Last year, Google LLC had also invested Rs 33,737 crore or $4.5 billion to pick up a 7.73% stake in Reliance’s digital arm Jio Platforms. Google had said it will be investing Rs 75,000 crore or $10 billion into India via equity infusions and partnerships over the next 5-7 years. The investment in Jio had covered almost half of its commitment through Google for India Digitization Fund of $10 billion.
Further, the two companies have also partnered in the 5G space through a partnership between Google Cloud and Jio. Ambani said Jio will use Google Cloud’s cutting-edge technologies to power Jio’s 5G Solutions and for powering the internal needs of key Reliance growth businesses like Reliance Retail, JioMart, JioSaavn and JioHealth.
On 5G services, Ambani said Jio has developed a fully homegrown and comprehensive 5G solution which is fully cloud native, software defined, and digitally managed. “Jio is not just working to make India 2G-Mukt…but also 5G-Yukt,” he said.
He added the company has tested the Jio 5G solutions in India and successfully demonstrated speeds well in excess of 1 Gbps. “As I speak to you, the entire 5G standalone network has been installed in our data centres across the nation and also at our trial sites in Navi Mumbai. We are confident of being the first to launch full-fledged 5G services,” he said.
On the collaborations announced last year with Facebook and Microsoft, he said an initial set of integrations between WhatsApp and JioMart on a trial basis has been launched, while a full New Commerce solution linking merchants and consumers could be launched over the next few quarters.
However, Ambani said the deployment of optic fibre network under Jio Fibre has been slower because of lockdowns and restrictions across the country in the past 15 months. Jio Fibre has acquired more than 2 million new premises over the past year, and now has a cumulative base of 3 million active home and business users. Also, data consumption on the network has grown to more than 3.5 times compared to a year ago. Jio’s optical-fibre network has reached 12 million homes and business premises in the top 100 cities.