India's RJio to Launch 4G in 10 Circles by End-2015

India's Reliance Jio is all set to launch its long-awaited 4G services across more than 100 cities in ten circles this month, according to industry sources. The circles are likely to include all three metros (Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata) as well as so-called "Category A" circles, like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra.

"In contrast to the expected big bang launch, the company would be launching in just ten circles this month," says a well-placed industry source with knowledge of Reliance Jio 's plans. "This would then be expanded to other areas by mid-2016."

This delay to the "big bang launch" that RJio had originally planned will clearly benefit existing operators such as Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL), Vodafone India and Idea Cellular Ltd. , giving them extra time to prep their own 4G network services.

But RJio is hoping that its inclusion of a voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) service with the 4G offer will make it stand out. Under the Lyf brand, RJio is set to launch a number of VoLTE devices in the coming months. While the prices of these gadgets are not currently known, they are likely to be disruptive. (See RJio 4G Vision Starts 'Lyf'.)

The success of the Lyf brand is absolutely critical to the success of RJio. While 4G devices are easily available and are being launched by all the major manufacturers, RJio is confident that VoLTE will be a hit. That will heavily depend on the affordability of VoLTE gadget, however.

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RJio has also started beta testing its 4G network by allowing its employees and their families to connect to the service. "Firstly, VoLTE works -- with perfect interconnection with other operator networks and no difference in experience on VoLTE … versus a fully circuit-switched call," said Credit Suisse in a recent report. "This is important since the lack of good voice products is still perceived to be one of the weakest links in RJio by the bulls on telcos."

That Credit Suisse report does, however, draw attention to the current shortage of VoLTE handsets. "Handset availability is limited in the beta phase with only 20 models recommended for full VoLTE functionality (starting $130)," say the authors. "We suspect the list will expand soon."

To support its mobile services, RJio initially procured a pan-India 2.3GHz spectrum license in 2010, later scooping up spectrum in the 1800MHz and 800MHz frequency bands. But it has been wrestling with technology issues related to the immaturity of the 4G device ecosystem, especially when it comes to 4G devices that support VoLTE. A spectrum-sharing deal with Reliance Communications Ltd. -- expected to come through soon -- will also require additional work on the interoperability front. Further problems could trigger fresh delays to the launch of commercial services in particular regions. (See Reliance JioCom in the Making? )

— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

Mitch Wagner 12/17/2015 | 12:04:20 PM
Enough? Will VoLTE be enough to draw in new customers? Or will customers say, "I could make voice calls before. What's the difference?"
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