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MAKING WAVES

As its freebie period ends, Ambani’s Jio unlikely to lose many subscribers: Study

India-Telecom-Jio
EPA/Piyal Adhikary
In the fast lane.
  • Ananya Bhattacharya
By Ananya Bhattacharya

Tech reporter

This article is more than 2 years old.

Reliance Jio has cast its spell on India, and how.

Last September, Mukesh Ambani launched mobile telephony services with much fanfare. The newest entrant in India’s competitive $50-billion telecom sector promised customers the world’s cheapest internet data at Rs50 ($0.7) per gigabyte, one-fifth of what it cost on an average then. Until the end of 2016, Jio customers also enjoyed all the services—data, voice calls, and messages—for free. Following a resounding success, India’s richest man had a surprise in store for Jio loyalists. He extended the freebies until March 31, 2017.

At the end of this month, customers have a decision to make: to Jio or not to Jio.

And it looks like Ambani has reason to rejoice. A survey of 1,000 Jio customers by Bank of America Merill Lynch showed that at least 84% of them are likely to subscribe to its Prime offering starting April. Another 12% plan to stay on with a non-Prime plan. In any case, Jio is only likely to add more users ahead of its March 31 deadline.

A Prime subscription entails an introductory one-time fee of Rs99 ($1.50) and Rs303($4.63) monthly payments for the 1GB-per-day 4G service and complimentary access to bundled apps worth over $150 for a year. Nearly 70% of those looking to switch to Prime from their current free service chose this as their preferred plan. Even among users who do not want Prime’s perks, a majority, 42%, opted for the Rs303 plan.

Some 66% of customers were using Jio as their primary connection by March, up from 50% during the December survey. A quarter uses it as the secondary sim.

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Meanwhile, over the last three months, the company has tried to curb patchy voice calls. At the end of 2016, around 34% of people said it was very difficult to get through to other networks. Only 19% had a problem with calls at the time of the March 2017 survey. Once it goes through, 43% felt Jio’s call quality was on par with other networks’; 57% said it was superior.

And guess who is taking note.

Competition

The disruption caused by Jio is a healthy change from an otherwise antiquated and saturated market.

In the new year, telecom giant Bharti Airtel began dishing out 12 months of free 4G services while government-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam (BSNL) offered unlimited local and national calling and 300 MB data for a mere Rs144 monthly till June 2017. Meanwhile, Vodafone and Idea have announced a merger.

Ambani claims his company has grown faster than Whatsapp, Facebook, and Skype. Whether the hype lasts or not is a question that’ll be answered starting next month.

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