RJio's 4G Hold-Ups May Benefit Incumbents

India's Reliance Jio Infocomm is believed to have again postponed the launch of a commercial 4G service, according to media reports.

While the company has introduced a 4G service for the 100,000 employees of parent company Reliance Industries, the ongoing delays to a more widespread service rollout are clearly damaging Reliance Jio 's chances of grabbing a significant share of India's developing 4G market. (See India's RJio to Launch 4G in 10 Circles by End-2015.)

Even as RJio continues to postpone a commercial launch, existing mobile operators are aggressively expanding their 4G networks and upgrading their infrastructure. Market leader Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL), which launched way back in 2012, is now present in more than 300 towns and cities and vigorously promoting its offerings. Number three and four players Vodafone India and Idea Cellular Ltd. are also focusing on 4G expansion.

"The delay is giving an advantage to competitors, which have intensified their marketing activities to procure 4G customers," says Amresh Nandan, a research director with Gartner Inc. .

It is now almost six years since RJio picked up a 2.3GHz license covering the whole of India. At the time, RJio was the only telco with such a nationwide spectrum license, and it built on this advantage by acquiring frequency rights for the 800MHz and 1800MHz bands during subsequent auctions. But it has recently fallen behind Bharti Airtel, which holds more 4G spectrum than any other Indian player thanks to its deals with Aircel Ltd. and Videocon Telecommunications Ltd. . This could upset RJio's ability to provide 4G services that are on a par with the market leader's.

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RJio hopes to differentiate its 4G services by offering voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) technology to its customers. But this could prove difficult given the current immaturity of VoLTE. Indeed, the Lyf devices brand, which RJio launched to spur the development of a VoLTE devices ecosystem, has yet to make any real impact. (See RJio Sputters Into Lyf With 4G 'Launch'.)

Nevertheless, many observers reckon the delay could benefit RJio in some respects. For a start, it will not be up to RJio to generate awareness of 4G among Indian consumers. Moreover, the devices ecosystem might have taken longer to develop had existing operators not already launched 4G.

"While the 4G device ecosystem has taken a long time to develop, it would have taken even longer if other 4G players had not launched their services," says Deepak Kumar, the founder analyst of B&M NXT. "But the presence of a live network gave confidence to device manufacturers to make value-for-money 4G devices available in the market. This has made it easier for RJio to leverage the device momentum that has been generated by the 4G launches by incumbents."

— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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