India's 4G market has received a boost from the long-awaited launch of services by Reliance Jio on December 27 -- the eve of the 83rd birthday of Dhirubhai Ambani, the founder of RJio parent Reliance Industries. But the new entrant's 4G offering is currently available only to the 100,000 employees of Reliance Industries and not expected to be deployed on a widespread basis until the second half of the year. (See India's RJio to Launch 4G in 10 Circles by End-2015.)
Nevertheless, the launch of the 4G service -- which comes with a range of Reliance Jio applications -- should allow the Indian operator to ensure its technology is glitch-free before it embarks on a more extensive rollout using the brand of "Lyf." (See RJio 4G Vision Starts 'Lyf'.)
"By throwing open the Jio services to all its business partners, and its vast number of employees and their families spread all across India, RIL [Reliance Industries] will be making the optimal use of human resources to ensure that the last and the slightest wrinkle would be smoothed out to perfection before Jio launches its all-India commercial services," said the company in a statement.
The 4G rollout services marks the return of Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL) owner Mukesh Ambani to the telecom industry after a long absence. Following the death of Dhirubhai in 2002, the Reliance empire was divided between then-feuding Mukesh and Anil, with the latter taking control of the telecom business. But the RJio launch was attended by Anil and his family, hinting at further rapprochement between the brothers. The two brothers have recently struck an infrastructure-sharing agreement and are in talks about a spectrum-sharing deal. The industry has also been rife with rumors of a merger between RJio and Reliance Communications Ltd. , the telecom business owned by Anil. (See Reliance JioCom in the Making? )
Incumbents get ready for commercial launch
Launch delays will be extremely helpful to the longer-established players, which now have more time to knock their service offerings into shape. Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL), India's largest service provider, has already launched 4G services in around 300 towns and cities. It has also recently announced details of a $9 billion investment plan called Project Leap, aimed at modernizing its network over the next three years. (See Bharti's $9B Network Splurge in India.)
In the meantime, the development of the 4G ecosystem is spurring consolidation in India. Having recently acquired Sistema Shyam TeleServices Ltd. , RCom is now thought to be in talks with Aircel Ltd. , while Vodafone India is rumored to be considering a takeover of Tikona Digital Networks Pvt. Ltd. , which owns 2.3GHz spectrum in the five service areas of Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh (East), Uttar Pradesh (West) and Rajasthan. (See MTS India Merges With RCom.)
Vodafone currently lacks any 2.3GHz holdings and plans to launch 4G services in the five service areas of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Karnataka and Kerala using 1800MHz spectrum. It has already introduced the technology in ten towns in Kerala, but will need to increase its spectrum holdings as it rolls out 4G services.
Other players have also been amassing spectrum in advance of RJio's 4G launch, with Idea Cellular Ltd. -- India's third-biggest operator -- recently acquiring airwaves from smaller rival Videocon Telecommunications Ltd. covering two service areas.
— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading