Reliance Jio, India's newest and fastest-growing service provider, hopes to play the role of "anchor" when it comes to innovation and open source efforts in the country.
Owned by Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani, the telco believes that it is high time India developed products and services tailored specifically to the Indian market. "If you observe, a lot of effort has been put into the IT space [in India], but what has not happened is a focused effort [for innovation] in the telecom space," says Matthew Oommen, RJio's president of networks, global strategy and service development, on the sidelines of India's recent Digital Open Summit.
The event was organized by Reliance Jio in association with the Linux Foundation in an attempt to spur the right kind of innovation. And the operator has said it will organize a number of such events where it can work with the developer community to “create a new generation of connected intelligence platforms."
"What is relevant for India is what we should also start developing,” says a company representative.
As a greenfield operator, RJio is well positioned to take a radically different approach from its older rivals. By developing an innovation "ecosystem," it believes it can establish itself as a digital service provider, and not merely a telco. That could prove important if RJio is ultimately to become a market leader.
Since launching its operations in September 2016, RJio has gained a market share of between 13% and 14%, representing more than 150 million customers in India, by offering low-cost voice and data services. Yet price-based disruption will only take RJio so far. Most of its subscribers continue to use it as a secondary SIM. By offering more innovative products with greater relevance for Indian consumers, RJio hopes it can become the primary service provider.
It is with this goal in mind that RJio is promoting open source and has upped its engagement with the startup community. The web browser for JioPhone, the low-cost 4G feature phone that RJio launched last year, was designed by a startup called Widely that receives mentoring at GenNext Hub, the startup platform launched by Reliance Industries, RJio's parent company, in 2014.
Although India has a vibrant community of software developers, it doesn't figure in the top ten countries for open source development. That is something else RJio hopes to change.
The innovation within
RJio is also taking a number of steps to promote innovation within the organization. "In our packet core, we have broken the core wireless into many microservices models, each microservice has been assigned an open service lead and those leads creates a containerized model in terms of fostering the delivery of each piece in itself," said Oommen on the sidelines of the conference. "In essence there is a cultural component, organizational component and there is a leadership component as well. We look at things in a multi-service function and we break them into smaller parts."
Oommen also indicated that RJio is trying to break down the silos that have separated different departments and technologies, and create a culture of collaboration within the organization. "Ultimately, it is important to have created champions for each segment like Evolved Packet Core (EPC), IMS, messaging, network operations, the orchestration framework and so on," he says. "Most important is to have an NFV infrastructure layer because that becomes the foundation for every service to be put on the network as a VNF [virtual network function]. EPC, for instance, then becomes a VNF of its own and so on. So each VNF associated with our core, our access and our services has a small microservices organization."
The company is working with a US-based firm called Mirantis Inc. -- which uses OpenStack, Kubernetes and related technologies and counts AT&T and Vodafone as customers -- on the development of a cloud strategy for internal purposes as well as enterprise customers. It is also conducting trials for the deployment of virtualization in the core layer.
"We have partnered with Jio for their cloud infrastructure," said Adrian Lonel, the co-founder and president of Mirantis. "We are not engaged with any other operator in the country."
— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading