Mobile services

Where RJio Innovates, India's Incumbents Follow

A new player in any industry will aim to be disruptive and shake up the established order. In India's fast-consolidating mobile market, Reliance Jio, with its launch of 4G services in September last year, seems to be gleefully playing that disruptor role. Led by Mukesh Ambani, India's richest man, the operator is responsible for a raft of innovations that have forever changed the rules of the local game.

Capturing more than 125 million subscribers in the first ten months of operations, Reliance Jio has become the fastest-growing service provider in the world. Its most important innovations over the last year are as follows:

  • VoLTE: So far, RJio is the only operator in India to have started offering voice services based on voice-over-LTE technology. Its service launch has forced longer-established rivals to start VoLTE trials, with Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL), Idea Cellular Ltd. and Vodafone India all at various stages of that process. Already under pressure from Internet messaging services like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, telcos had been exploring the option of using VoLTE to lower costs before RJio's move. But it was only after RJio launched its commercial operations, and started offering free services for life to its customers, that rivals began to look at VoLTE more seriously. (See VoLTE Picks Up in India .)

  • JioPhone: The launch of a low-cost 4G feature phone by RJio will forever change the Indian service providers' approach toward devices. Indian telcos have traditionally shied away from offering subsidized devices along with services. But as a pure-play 4G operator, RJio had to think of innovative ways to expand its addressable market. Smartphones, after all, account for just 280 million of the 780 million handsets in the country. The low-cost JioPhone it came up with is designed to appeal to the most price-conscious Indian consumer. And it has forced Airtel, Vodafone and Idea to respond. All three are now forming alliances with device makers to offer bundled devices to their subscribers. (See RJio Disrupts Again With Low-Cost 4G Phone.)

    Want to know more about 4G LTE? Check out our dedicated 4G LTE content channel here on Light Reading.

  • Aadhaar-based subscriber onboarding: Possibly the biggest innovation in India has been an overhaul of the subscriber onboarding process. While previously it would take three to five days for a service provider to verify a customer's details before activating services, that process now takes just a few minutes. With the Aadhaar (which means "foundation" in Hindi) system, each citizen is given a unique 12-digit number that he or she can use for government services and benefits. However, RJio has also been using the Aadhaar system for SIM card activations, making it easy for people with Aadhaar numbers to join its network. With rivals following its lead, Aadhaar has now become a standard onboarding process.

    While India's incumbents have copied RJio in all of these cases, they have not always been followers. Airtel has made it possible for subscribers to carry forward their leftover data from the previous month. It also came up with a plan allowing users on a "family plan" to save 20% on their monthly bills and to create customized plans for different members.

    But India's telcos must learn to be more innovative as part of their modus operandi, taking full advantage of key assets like subscriber data. That is not easy. Legacy infrastructure and organizational structure are likely to hinder such innovation, and some older players lack RJio's deep pockets. Ultimately, RJio has pushed the industry out of its comfort zone.

    — Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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