Broadband services

India's RJio Charges Into Fiber, Unveils New 4G Phone

There is never a dull moment at Reliance Industries' annual general meeting. Accompanied by his children Akash and Isha, Mukesh Ambani, the chairman of the Indian conglomerate, this year announced a major push into the country's fixed-line broadband market, along with an update on the low-cost 4G phone that Reliance already sells.

The JioGigaFiber service, which telecom subsidiary Reliance Jio will start selling on August 15, will be available in 1,100 cities at launch. Fiber connectivity will be available to homes, merchants, small and midsized enterprises and large corporations.

Based on fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) technology, the fixed-line broadband service will offer "ultra-high-definition entertainment on large-screen TVs, multi-party video-conferencing from your living room, voice-activated virtual assistants, virtual reality gaming, digital shopping, immersive experiences," said Reliance.

RJio claims to have spent about 2.5 trillion Indian rupees ($36.25 billion) on "creating state-of-the-art digital infrastructure to provide mobile and broadband connectivity across the country with the largest fiber footprint," in the words of Ambani. He further pointed out that India ranks just 134th in international tables of fixed broadband performance. Thanks to RJio, he said, it would in future enter the top five.

Customers will be able to register for JioGigaFiber through the MyJio smartphone app or using the Jio.com website. RJio says it will prioritize the launch of services in different communities depending on levels of consumer interest. It is already conducting JioGigaFiber trials in many parts of the country.

But what about pricing? Ambani did not mention this during his presentation, but broadband rivals can expect tough competition, judging by RJio's record. In all likelihood, it will include some kind of free data offering in the broadband service, as it did when launching mobile services in late 2016. The rivals that look most at risk are Bharti Airtel, which provides FTTH services under its V-Fiber initiative, and government-owned BSNL, which is also offering FTTH in a few areas.

While FTTH remains unavailable in many parts of India, its relevance is growing with the emergence of 5G technology and rising interest in the concept of smart cities. The 5G standard may require additional basestations and small cells, and these will need connecting with fiber to support an ultra-fast mobile broadband network. On the smart cities front, India launched its Smart Cities Mission in 2015, under which it aims to make 100 cities in the country more connected. Initiatives like these will demand ubiquitous coverage from a robust and reliable network. Fiber will be key.

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The JioPhone 2, meanwhile, represents the successor to the JioPhone that already has around 25 million users. It will cost as little as INR2,999 ($43.40) and is also due to hit the market on August 15.

To make the device even more affordable, Ambani is marketing a JioPhone Monsoon Hungama offer, allowing customers to exchange an existing feature phone for JioPhone for an additional fee of just INR501 ($7.20). The move clearly echoes the original Monsoon Hungama service that Ambani launched way back in 2002, when affordable mobile services were made available to India's population for the first time ever.

"Our purpose is to accelerate the digital revolution in India with the extreme affordability of a JioPhone, so that each and every Indian can access the Internet and enjoy the digital life," said Ambani.

RJio's entire user base has now increased to about 215 million customers, and the operator claims to have doubled its network capacity in the last ten months.

— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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