Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director, Reliance Industries Limited

Reliance Jio, the telco with the largest mobile subscriber base in India, is keen to leverage its telecom network to make inroads into the country’s digital ecosystem. In 2020, Jio continued to make concerted efforts to position itself as a formidable digital platform, and managed to attract several global investors to strengthen its digital play. Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director, Reliance Industries Limited, spoke about Jio’s focus areas, strategic partnerships and future plans at various industry events throughout the year. Edited excerpts from some of his addresses…

Journey thus far

Jio leads the Indian telecom industry, with the largest customer base, the largest share of data and voice traffic, and a world-class next-generation broadband network that covers the length and breadth of our country. Jio’s vision stands on two solid pillars – digital connectivity and digital platforms. We have now fully kickstarted all the five accelerators of digital connectivity growth: mobile broadband; Jiofiber, our optic fibre-based, gigabit-speed home broadband service; our enterprise broadband service; broadband for small and medium enterprises; and our narrowband internet of things (NB-IoT) service. We have already connected over a million homes on Jiofiber, and our growth will accelerate as we gear up to connect millions more in the post-Covid period. Further, in the next three years, I can see a strong path for Jio to connect over half a billion mobile customers, over a billion smart sensors, and over 50 million homes and business establishments.

Technology partnerships

Jio Platforms, along with its more than 20 start-up partners, has built significant world-class capabilities in several cutting-edge technologies including 4G and 5G, cloud computing, devices and operating systems, big data analytics, machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), virtual and mixed reality, blockchain, natural language understanding and computer vision. Using these technologies, we can create compelling solutions that span multiple industry verticals and ecosystems such as media, financial services, new commerce, education, healthcare, agriculture, smart cities, smart manufacturing and smart mobility. These are the technologies and ecosystem solutions that hold the power to achieve a 360-degree digital transformation of India.

In 2019, we announced our partnership with Microsoft and are making rapid progress in our Azure cloud partnership. In 2020, we entered into another strategic partnership with Facebook. Facebook and Jio share a strong vision for digitally empowering consumers, as well as small businesses and entrepreneurs, across India. WhatsApp, which is a Facebook product, is already the platform of choice for Indians and Indian businesses to connect with each other. Over 400 million WhatsApp users in India bring unique value to our partnership. Jio’s new commerce platform, JioMart, and WhatsApp will be working closely together to create growth opportunities for millions of small Indian merchants and kirana shops.

We have also had investments from some of the most admired technology and financial investors – Silver Lake, Vista Equity Partners, General Atlantic, KKR, TPG, L Catterton, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and Mubadala of the UAE, and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. We are partnering with Intel and Qualcomm, which have shaped the semi-conductor industry and are at the heart of the digital ecosystem.

During 2020, we also welcomed Google as a strategic partner into Jio. We believe we can design entry-level 4G, or even 5G, smartphones for a fraction of the current cost. But, to power such a value-engineered smartphone, we need an equally value-engineered smartphone operating system (OS), one that has been designed with India in mind. To make this a reality, Google and Jio are partnering to build an Android-based smartphone OS. We are confident that we can accelerate the national mission of putting a smart device in the hands of every Indian through this partnership.

As the country is standing at the doorstep of the 5G era, we should accelerate the migration of 350 million Indians, who currently use 2G feature phones, to affordable smartphones.

Indigenous 5G

Jio’s global-scale 4G and fibre network is powered by several core software technologies and components that have been developed right here in India. This capability and know-how that Jio has developed positions it on the cutting edge of another exciting frontier – 5G. Jio has designed and developed a complete 5G solution from scratch. This will enable us to launch a world-class 5G service in the country using 100 per cent home-grown technologies and solutions.

This made-in-India 5G solution will be ready for trials as soon as 5G spectrum is available and can be ready for field deployment in the near future. Further, because of Jio’s converged, all-IP network architecture, our 4G network can be easily upgraded to 5G. Once Jio’s 5G solution is proven at the India scale, Jio Platforms would be well positioned to be an exporter of 5G solutions to other telecom operators across the world, as a complete managed service.

Advent of AI

AI is indispensable for India’s tryst with its digital destiny. Data is the raw material for AI, and intelligent data is the digital capital. In the past, nations have competed on physical, financial, human and intellectual capital. But in the coming decades, they will increasingly compete on digital capital. India has the unique advantage of being able to harness its enormous digital capital for AI-driven development. Therefore, the time is ripe and the tools are ready to make India a world leader in AI, and to make AI work for all Indians.

It is important to understand the epoch-changing significance of AI. The advent of modern AI is comparable only to the birth of intelligent life on our planet. In the coming decades, the total non-biological intelligence will exceed the rational intelligence of the entire human population. But this does not mean that AI will replace the human mind. It never can and never will. Rather, AI and other associated technologies of the fourth industrial revolution will vastly expand our capacity to solve the most complex and pressing problems before India and the world.

Specifically, AI will enable India to move faster towards achieving the five ambitious goals set by the Indian government – of transforming India into a high-growth economy on its path to $5 trillion; of making our industry and our small businesses atmanirbhar and dominating new global value chains; of modernising the Indian agricultural sector and multiplying the incomes of our farmers; of delivering high quality and affordable healthcare to all Indians; and of delivering world-class education, skill training and talent enrichment to every Indian, including those in the remotest parts of rural India.

Coping with Covid-19

The year 2020 will forever be etched in human consciousness because of Covid-19. Almost overnight, all of us became reliant on digital connectivity to stay connected and productive. India’s high speed 4G connectivity infrastructure has proved to be the country’s digital lifeline. Throughout 2020, India worked online, studied online, shopped online, received healthcare online, socialised online, played online – simply put, India thrived online. This underscores the phenomenal evolution of digital technology in India. From being a means of limited engagement and entertainment, it has evolved into a platform of unlimited enablement and empowerment.

Despite the lockdown, the entire industry, consisting of thousands of engineers and employees, worked round the clock to provide critical support 24×7 to all sections of society and business. The government supported the telecom industry in going the extra mile to keep services running during this period.

During the past year, Jio became the digital lifeline for many Indians. Despite the huge surge in data traffic, Jio’s network held firm. We continued to deliver on our promise of being an essential service provider to the nation.

The way forward

As many as 300 million mobile subscribers in India are still trapped in the 2G era. Urgent policy steps are needed to ensure that these people have affordable smartphones, so that they too can actively participate in and benefit from India’s evolving digital economy.

Policy steps are also needed to facilitate the early roll-out of 5G and to make it affordable and available everywhere. 5G will enable India to not just participate in the fourth industrial revolution, but to lead it.

Jio will pioneer the 5G revolution in India in the second half of 2021. It will be powered by indigenously developed network, hardware and technology components. Jio Platforms, with its family of over 20 start-up partners, has built world-class capabilities in AI, cloud computing, big data, ML, IoT, blockchain, etc. Jio’s 5G service will be a testimony to the country’s inspiring vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat.

Going forward, we are confident of playing a leading role in India’s transformation into a digital society and one of the leading digitally enabled economies of the world.