Reliance Jio has positioned itself as a formidable digital platform and managed to attract several global investors to strengthen its digital play. The telco aims to make high-speed connectivity ubiquitous and affordable for users in India while also focusing on developing an indigenous ecosystem of networking solutions. Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director, Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), spoke about Jio’s key focus areas, strategic partnerships, 5G road map and future plans at RIL’s 44th annual general meeting held recently. Edited excerpts from his address…
In spite of Covid, Jio sustained its track record of robust performance. Jio became the first operator outside China to cross 400 million mobile subscribers in a single country. Further, Jio today is the world’s second largest mobile data carrier, handling monthly traffic of over 6.3 billion GB. This is a growth of nearly 45 per cent in data consumption in the past year alone, a testament to the rapid pace at which India is digitalising.
More significantly, Jio continued to be the digital lifeline binding Indians together despite social distancing, lockdowns and work-from-home. During the past year, we also made the necessary capital investments to further strengthen our market position and growth.
During the recent spectrum auctions, we invested Rs 571.23 billion to acquire significant additional spectrum. The move has made Jio the operator with the largest 4G spectrum in India. Notably, we have operationalised nearly 100 per cent of this additional spectrum.
When combined with another Rs 151.83 billion that we invested in further expanding our network infrastructure, Jio has raised the bar even higher for service quality, and our leadership is evident across India along all key metrics such as indoor coverage, download speeds and video experience. More importantly, these investments have created the capacity to on-board an additional 200 million customers on to Jio’s network, thereby bringing digital empowerment to even more Indians.
Jio has truly democratised digital connectivity in India by offering the most affordable, high quality 4G broadband services in the world. Even so, India still has nearly 300 million mobile users who are unable to escape from inefficient and exorbitant 2G services because even a basic 4G smartphone remains unaffordable for these users.
Therefore, an ultra-affordable 4G smartphone is essential to make India “2G-mukt”. Last year, Google and Jio discussed co-developing a next-generation, feature-rich but extremely affordable smartphone, aimed at providing first-time internet access to 2G users. The Google and Jio teams have now jointly developed a full-feature smartphone, JioPhone Next. It supports the entire suite of applications from both Google and Jio, as well as the Android Play Store, through which users can access the entire universe of Android apps.
JioPhone Next is powered by an extremely optimised version of the Android operating system, which has been jointly developed by Jio and Google especially for the Indian market. Despite being ultra-affordable, the phone is packed with cutting-edge features such as a voice assistant, automatic read-aloud of screen text, language translation, a smart camera with augmented reality filters, and much more. This is a testament to a global technology giant and a national technology champion working jointly to make a breakthrough product that can be first introduced in India, and then taken to the rest of the world.
JioPhone Next will be available in the market from September 10, 2021 onwards, and will be by far amongst the most affordable smartphones not just in India, but globally.
Focus on cloud
Cloud and cloud solutions are another area where Jio is collaborating with Google. The telecom operator will use Google Cloud’s cutting-edge technologies to power Jio’s 5G solutions and the internal needs of key Reliance growth businesses such as Reliance Retail, JioMart, JioSaavn and JioHealth.
We have also made significant progress in the collaborations that we announced last year. With Facebook, we have launched an initial set of integrations between WhatsApp and JioMart on a trial basis. The response from WhatsApp and JioMart customers is encouraging, including lots of valuable feedback. Our joint teams are actively developing full new commerce solutions linking merchants and consumers, and we plan to progressively launch these over the next few quarters.
With Microsoft, we have operationalised an initial 10 MW capacity of Jio-Azure cloud data centres in two cities, Jamnagar and Nagpur. We are currently on-boarding the initial group of pilot customers and we plan to expand our data centre capacity and our offerings to a growing number of SMEs and start-ups over the coming quarters.
We are indeed privileged to have partners such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft, in whose company our efforts to create a digital society in India seem that much easier.
Across the world, the past 15 months have been challenging for on-the-ground physical work. JioFiber, Jio’s optical fibre-based, gigabit speed, fixed broadband service, has also faced similar challenges. The pace of optical fibre cable (OFC) deployment, building connectivity and home installations have all been slower than expected because of lockdowns and other restrictions across our country.
Despite this, JioFiber has acquired more than 2 million new premises over the past year, following all safety protocols for our customers and employees. Now, with a cumulative base of 3 million active home and business users, JioFiber has become the largest and the fastest growing fixed broadband operator in India.
Data consumption on JioFiber has grown more than 3.5 times compared to a year ago. Today, Jio’s OFC network is physically present outside more than 12 million homes and business premises, with a deep fibre footprint in the top 100 cities. I continue to be confident of a rapid uptake of JioFiber services and revenue growth for Jio, as India recovers from Covid-19.
Focus on indigenisation
Last year I had announced that Jio’s engineers have developed a 100 per cent home-grown and comprehensive 5G solution that is fully cloud native, software defined, and digitally managed.
Jio has taken tremendous strides in maturing this state-of-the-art stand-alone 5G technology, which signifies a quantum leap to the next frontier of wireless broadband. Together with our partners, we have tested the Jio 5G solutions in India and have successfully demonstrated speeds well in excess of 1 Gbps.
Our “Made in India” solution is comprehensive, complete and globally competitive. It reaffirms my faith in the abundant talent of Indian engineers to deliver world-class products in such a cutting-edge technology.
Recently, we received the necessary regulatory approvals and trial spectrum for initiating 5G field trials. The entire 5G stand-alone network has been installed in our data centres across the nation, and also at our trial sites in Navi Mumbai.
We are confident of being the first to launch full-fledged 5G services. And because of our converged, future-proof architecture, Jio’s network is uniquely positioned to quickly and seamlessly upgrade from 4G to 5G.
To develop the end-to-end 5G ecosystem, we are now working with leading global partners to develop a full range of 5G-capable devices. Jio 5G technology is well positioned to create compelling applications for consumers and enterprises spanning the healthcare, education, entertainment, retail, and other key verticals of the economy.
One exciting 5G-enabled solution that Jio is developing with the Sir H.N. Reliance Foundation Hospital is a state-of-the-art connected ambulance. With real-time, high fidelity telemedicine and remote doctor access, each connected ambulance can become a virtual extension of a hospital emergency room, even while on the move. We are also engaging with Reliance Foundation schools to use 5G to deliver immersive and interactive augmented and virtual reality content to students and classrooms, making the learning process a delightful, memorable and enriching experience.
We hope that such showcases will catalyse the emergence of a vibrant, local 5G ecosystem, making India a global hub for 5G development and export. And once Jio’s 5G solutions are proven at the India scale, we are excited by the prospect of exporting them to other telecom operators across the world.
Jio has developed deep expertise in multiple emerging technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence/machine learning, and blockchain and mixed reality. We are developing 100 per cent-owned intellectual property. We have access to deep domain knowledge and operational experience within the Reliance Group across key industry verticals.
In all, Jio Platforms is blossoming into a global technology player, capable of creating multifold societal, customer and shareholder value for years to come. We have the opportunity to serve a global audience.
Post Covid, India too will emerge stronger. It will be a better, resurgent India; a more equal and a far more self-confident India. I foresee that the Indian economy will bounce back at a rate that will surprise the world. And prosperity and opportunities will be created for all on a scale never seen before. Not for a few, but for all 1.35 billion Indians. Indeed, I see the global economy resetting itself in ways that will create a more equal world.