Reliance Jio, India's fastest-growing telco, seems likely to become India's biggest operator based on revenues by 2021 and to have more customers than any other player by 2022, according to forecasts from Sanford C.Bernstein & Co. The disruptor and the challenger in the Indian telecom industry may have seized the throne in just three years' time. (See RJio Builds Customer Base at Rivals' Cost .)
The Reliance Jio (RJio) rise to power has been one of the most remarkable feats in the telecom industry anywhere on the planet. Part of the business empire of Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani, it launched services as recently as September 2016, offering customers free connections for the first six months. After a year, it had signed up as many as 100 million subscribers.
This year, RJio has taken several decisive steps to consolidate its position as it prepares for the next phase of growth. Here is a rundown of the major news associated with RJio in 2018.
Rural growth powered by JioPhone
Possibly the biggest factor in RJio's success in Tier 2 and 3 towns and cities has been the JioPhone, a 4G-enabled feature phone launched in 2017. Customers can exchange older JioPhones for an update unveiled earlier this year for as little as 501 Indian rupees ($6.90), thanks to the JioPhone Monsoon Hungama offer.
The JioPhone meant RJio could target first-time users, mostly in rural areas as well as Tier 2 and 3 towns and cities. According to data released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), RJio has recorded growth of 18% in adjusted gross revenue (AGR) in non-metro cities, while sales have remained static in the metro cities of Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. That suggests the JioPhone is having an impact outside major cities, in communities that were previously dominated by Idea Cellular Ltd. (now part of Vodafone Idea). (See RJio Disrupts Again With Low-Cost 4G Phone.)
RJio competitors Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL) and Vodafone Idea have seen growth in metro cities but not outside them. Unfortunately, this also means that heavier-spending customers, for whom price is not the deciding factor in choosing a service provider, have still not warmed to RJio. The Mukesh Ambani company remains under pressure to come up with truly differentiated offerings to appeal to consumers in this segment.
Launch of JioGigaFiber
RJio announced the launch of JioGigaFiber for homes and enterprises earlier this year. These broadband services will be offered across 1,100 cities over a fiber backbone. Subscriptions opened on August 15, 2018 (India's Independence Day), but the service has yet to be launched. (See India's RJio Charges Into Fiber, Unveils New 4G Phone.)
RJio clearly hopes to repeat its wireless success in the broadband market. Although it has yet to announce any tariffs, it is likely to offer a free service, as it did when targeting mobile customers, before it starts to charge for broadband. As in the wireless market, this could prove highly disruptive and change the rules of the broadband game.
Many believe that JioGigaFiber will help the operator to break into the high-paying segment. A press release introducing the service indicated that it would 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."
Acquisition of DEN Networks and Hathway Cable
Jio went on a shopping spree to acquire controlling stakes in DEN Networks Ltd and Hathway Cable and Datacom to speed up its rollout of home broadband services to around 50 million homes across 1,100 cities. These deals are crucial to help with last-mile connectivity for JioGigafiber: They mean RJio will be able to use the networks of 27,000 local cable operators owned by DEN and Hathway. (See RJio Snaps Up Broadband Assets in Spending Spree.)
The Radisys acquisition
RJio's takeover of Radisys -- a telco acquisition of a global vendor -- is possibly a first-of-its-kind deal in India. Radisys looks crucial to Jio's plans to use virtualization to prepare its network for new upcoming services based on 5G and the Internet of Things. (See India's Reliance Industries Snaps Up Radisys .)
"This acquisition would further accelerate RJio's global innovation and technology leadership in the areas of 5G, the IoT and open source architecture adoption," says Akash Ambani, the son of Mukesh and director of RJio, in the press note issued by Radisys. RJio clearly hopes the takeover will open up new revenue streams and support its efforts to become an innovator and thought leader in new technology areas.
And some more
Another notable move this year was the takeover of Saavn, a popular online music platform, and the integration of this with JioMusic, RJio's own music app. RJio also became the first Indian operator to launch a VoLTE-based inbound international roaming service between India and Japan, through Japanese telco KDDI.
Clearly, RJio has had a dramatic impact on India's telecom industry in a relatively short space of time. The incumbents are now struggling to return to profitability and keep pace with RJio's innovations. As RJio continues to expand in mobile, they now face a threat in the home broadband segment, too.
— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading