More than five years after it picked up a pan-Indian spectrum license in the 2.3GHz band, Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Jio has announced plans to launch a 4G service in December this year.
"We are expanding this footprint to cover nearly 80% of India's population by the end of this year," said Ambani late last week at the 41st Annual General Meeting of Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL) , RJio's parent company. Ambani has also promised to cover the entire country with the 4G network by 2018.
Calling the rollout the "largest transformational greenfield digital initiative anywhere in the world," Ambani noted that RJio is now present in all 29 Indian states and in nearly 18,000 cities and towns.
"Over the next few months, we will initiate an extensive beta launch involving millions of friendly customers across all our markets," said Ambani. "This beta program will be upgraded into commercial operations around December of this year. I am glad to announce that financial year 2016/17 will be the first full year of commercial operations for RJio."
Besides being the only operator with a pan-Indian 2.3GHz license, RJio also holds 1800MHz spectrum licenses in 20 circles (service areas) and 800MHz licenses in another 10, making it the largest owner of liberalized spectrum in India. (See RJio Moves Closer to 4G Launch .)
Fiber is also critical to the company's plans: RJio has already deployed nearly 250,000 kilometers of a fiber-optic network and aims to more than double this by introducing fiber optics in the last mile.
"By April of next year, we would have connected over 1 million homes via fiber with a capability of rapidly scaling up in the top 50 cities of India," says Ambani, pointing out that RJio is the only operator providing next-generation digital services over an end-to-end all-IP network.
The company is also getting ready for the expected data tsunami by building a multi-terabit-capacity international network.
"More than half of the Internet traffic served by Jio will be carried end-to-end on Jio's own network, creating an unparalleled customer experience," said Ambani. "Simply put, what Jio has done is to connect the remotest village of the country to any Internet destination hosted anywhere in the world."
Reliance Jio also operates nearly half a million square feet of its own next-generation cloud data centers and intends to double the available capacity over the next year.
Ambani believes the scale of RJio's operations 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." The company is also likely to play a significant role in the Digital India project launched recently by the government.
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But none of this will happen unless devices become more affordable, and RJio hopes it can play a role in reducing costs. "The combination of Jio's strong initiatives and supportive global environment gives me the confidence that we will see 4G LTE smartphones in India at prices below INR4,000 by December this year," said Ambani during his speech last week.
Even so, while Ambani talked at length about the various applications -- such as Jio Chat, Jio Beats and Jio Money -- he has provided few details about RJio's plans for a voice offering.
Moreover, the operator's spectrum lead is no longer as compelling: Rivals including Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL), Vodafone India and Idea Cellular Ltd. have all improved their spectrum positions and also serve a huge number of customers. (See Idea, Airtel, Vodafone Splash Out on Indian Airwaves.)
No doubt, competitively priced devices will be critical to RJio's success, but a key differentiator for the company will be quality of service. India's operators have faced regulator criticism over poor network services and RJio will have the advantage of starting from scratch.
— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading