Mukesh Ambani’s big telecom launch is coming this December

Sights trained on telecom.
Sights trained on telecom.
Image: Reuters/Vivek Prakash
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After months of speculation, the launch of Mukesh Ambani’s telecom venture—perhaps India’s most ambitious—has finally been announced.

Reliance Jio will start full commercial operations by December this year, Ambani told shareholders during Reliance Industries’ (RIL) annual general meeting (AGM) on June 12.

But India’s richest man didn’t stop at that. “I am confident that Jio will play a significant role in lifting India from its current 142nd rank on internet penetration to amongst the top 10 nations in the world,” he said as the crowd cheered, while his wife, Neeta, applauded from the stage.

RIL has already spent some Rs70,000 crore ($11 billion) on setting up the infrastructure for the 4G services, including a network of around 25,000 kilometer-long fibre optic cable network. It now plans to double this network over the next three years, covering the entire country.

This isn’t Ambani’s first foray into the telecom business. In the undivided Reliance group—the group split between the brothers in 2005—he had spearheaded the group’s telecom business, then called Reliance Infocomm. The company had launched services in 2002 with free mobile handsets and low call rates.

By December 2015, Jio will roll out 4G LTE smartphones priced under Rs4,000 ($62.4), with a subscription plan that’ll cost between Rs300 and Rs500 a month.

Here’s a quick snapshot of the list of services that Ambani outlined:

  • Jio News: Ambani was unequivocal in describing news and entertainment as a “huge opportunity”—and Jio News is being built as a one-stop shop for news across publications and categories. It will offer live updates and offline reading capabilities. With the Network18 acquisition in May last year, RIL already owns 17 news channels and 14 entertainment channels in eight languages.
  • Jio Play: With access to a number of channels across categories and languages, the service will be offered in high-definition quality. “In developed markets, over a billion hours of video is consumed every month on demand,” Ambani said. Jio has apparently built a personalised video on-demand application that will offer Bollywood, regional and international movies, TV episodes, trailers and music videos.
  • Jio Beats: A service similar to iTunes and Saavn, Jio Beats will allow users to stream music online, although the exact size of the library is unclear. 
  • Jio Mags: Even the back-issues of a number of magazines—the titles haven’t been specified—will be made available on mobile phones and tablets.
  • Jio Money: A digital wallet, where customers can use either a Jio Money card, or any other debit or credit card for payment. RIL has also partnered with State Bank of India—India’s largest bank—for a payments bank license, which will be integrated with Jio Money. However, they still haven’t received a license.
  • Jio Chat: Already launched in April, this service integrates chat, voice, video calling, conferencing, file sharing and photo sharing, among others. The app is available for Android and Apple’s operating systems on a pilot basis, and had over a million users in the first few weeks of operations, Ambani said.
  • Jio Drive: Similar to what Google Drive offers, Jio Drive will be a cloud-based app where consumers can store, sync and share content.
  • Broadcast distribution license: Jio has also applied for a pan-India cable television and multi-system operator license with plans to enter broadcast TV distribution. More details on this will be shared in the next AGM, Ambani said.

Investors liked what they heard. On the Bombay Stock Exchange, shares of RIL closed 1.36% higher than its previous close, while the benchmark index, Sensex, only rose by 0.21%.