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Say hello to India's first digital service provider

Famous for turning India's telecom industry upside down, Reliance Jio is not through with its disruptive behavior.

The Indian telco, a part of billionaire Mukesh Ambiance's Reliance Industries empire, has in the last few weeks signed a slew of agreements with new investors including private equity firms Silver Lake and Vista. Before the weekend, nearly 600 billion Indian rupees ($7.9 billion) had been injected into Jio Platforms, Jio's parent firm, in a period of just a few weeks.

The investment activity has continued with the news on May 17 that General Atlantic, another private equity firm, has acquired a share of the business for about $870 million. And there have been media reports that Saudi Arabia's $320 billion sovereign wealth fund is also poised to invest in Jio Platforms.

The biggest contribution so far, however, has come not from a private equity player but from social media giant Facebook. And the partnership that creates could provide India with its first digital service provider.

While Silver Lake, Vista and General Atlantic purchased stakes of 1.15%, 2.23% and 1.3% respectively, it is Facebook's injection of $5.7 billion for about 10% of Jio that is the most significant investment. It also represents Facebook's biggest investment outside the US. The partnership between the two companies promises to reshape the digital ecosystem in the country. (See Facebook places huge bet on India with $5.7B Jio stake and After Facebook, Silver Lake invests $747M in India's Jio.)

Right now, Jio is worth a fraction of the value attached to major US and Chinese firms, with an enterprise value of INR5.1 trillion ($67.5 billion) after Vista's investment. Walmart is valued at $344 billion, Facebook at $583 billion and Tencent Holdings at $509.7 billion, according to Forbes. (See India's Jio welcomes Vista as latest investor.)

Moreover, the Indian firm's valuation has risen thanks to recent acquisitions, including moves for Hathaway, Den Networks and Radisys, all of which are now a part of Jio Platforms along with several Jio apps and stakes in tech entities including Saavn, Haptik, Reverie and Fynd. (See India's Reliance Industries Snaps Up Radisys .)


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So why are investors now making a beeline for the company?

For one thing, while RJio is focused on providing connectivity solutions based on 4G, Jio Platforms is about a lot more. It seeks to launch several digital products which may or may not be available to subscribers on other telco networks. Simply put, Jio has the opportunity to reach a much bigger share of the market than its 300 million subscribers, earning money from its rivals' customers as well.

In December, for instance, it launched its JioMart service in three Mumbai suburbs, offering grocery products. After the collaboration with Facebook, the e-commerce service has become available through a WhatsApp number and is likely to be expanded across the country soon. JioMeet, a recently launched video conferencing app, is also available to customers on other networks. Jio is now thought to be working with Facebook on a super app that would provide various services to customers.

This strategy of launching several digital products will help to increase user engagement and generate new sales opportunities with customers. Facebook's experience in this area is likely to prove critical.

Its investments have propelled Jio toward the league of the world's biggest tech. It is now up to the company to make the best possible use of its opportunity. Jio is not known for its collaborative culture, and that may have to change.

What's more, becoming a digital service provider could require Jio to revamp its operations and organizational structure. It will call for a fundamentally different way of doing business and engaging with the customer.

– Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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