Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director, Reliance Industries Limited

Reliance Jio, which has become the largest fixed line broadband provider in the country, has made significant efforts to strengthen its digital play. During 2021, it took major strides in the 5G space, developing indigenous equipment as well as conducting trials. What are the company’s key focus areas, 5G plans and expansion strategies? Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director, Reliance Industries Limited, elaborated on these at various industry events through the year. Edited excerpts…

Jio’s expanding footprint

Reliance Jio has gained over 120 million subscribers and brought fibre to nearly 4 million homes and commercial establishments. At Jio, we are currently focused on 4G and 5G execution and broadband in­fra­structure expansion. We have developed 100 per cent homegrown and comprehensive 5G solutions that are fully cloud native and digitally managed. Because of our converged, future-proof architecture, Jio’s network could be quickly and seamlessly upgraded from 4G to 5G.

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. 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 2020 alone, a testament to the rapid pace at which India is digitalising.

4G spectrum auctions

During the 4G 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. 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 onboard an additional 200 million customers on to Jio’s network, thereby bringing digital empowerment to even more Indians.

Telecom relief package

The telecom sector is one of the prime movers of the economy and the key enabler for making India a digital society. The government’s announcement of reforms and relief measures will enable the industry to achieve the goals of Digital India. Jio’s mission is to bring the fruits of the digital revolution to 1.35 billion Indians. Telecom sector reforms will en­courage us to bring greater benefits to our customers.

Affordability is critical

We should not lose sight of the fact that affordability has been a critical driver of the phenomenally rapid expansion of the mobile subscriber base in India. India should move towards greater digital inclusion and not greater digital exclusion. When we talk of affordability in the policy context, we only think affordability of services. Actually, India needs to ensure aff­or­dability not only of services, but also of de­vi­ces and applications. The best way of en­suring comprehensive affordability is nimble adoption of futuristic technologies and supportive policy tools such as the use of the Universal Service Obligation (USO) Fund for purposes other than services. The USO Fund can be used to subsidise de­vices to select target groups.

Increasing fibre adoption to become future ready

Ubiquitous fibre connectivity should be completed across India in mission mode. This is because the world is now transitioning to a digital first era, when almost everything will be done in the digital space first and then translated into the physical world. The paradigm of economic activities and even social interactions will ch­ange dramatically. Virtual will become as important as real or actual.

Fibre has almost unlimited data-carrying capacity. Therefore, to be future ready, India has to be fibre ready. Even during these Covid-19 times, Jio was able to in-tro­duce fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) services to 4 million homes. If all players in the industry work together, we can rapidly achieve a nationwide footprint of fibre just as we delivered mobile telephony to every corner of the country in the last decade.

Focus on innovative solutions and clean energy solutions

We are already seeing innovative solutions in education, financial services, entertainment, retail, agriculture, manufacturing and other key verticals of the economy. An­other candidate for radical transformation is India’s energy systems. Technologi­es are maturing for energy saving through smart grids, decarbonisation of the economy and a drastic reduction in the cost of India’s transition to clean and green energy. All this shows that care for the people and care for the planet are embedded in the gigantic transformation our industry has initiated.

Our industry takes legitimate pride in the fact that we have democratised the mo­bile and digital revolution in India. Now, we are ready to democratise digitally enabled development so that its fruits can be enjoyed by all 1.35 billion Indians.

JioPhone Next

In 2020, 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.

Focus on indigenisation

Jio has taken tremendous strides in maturing the 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. 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.

5G ecosystem

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 sale, 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 sum

In all, Jio Platforms is blossoming into a global technology player, capable of creating multifold societal, customer and shareholder value for years to come. Our digital services business has delivered broad-bas­ed, sustainable and profitable growth th­rough improved customer engagement.