MUMBAI: The much-awaited commercial launch of Reliance Jio Infocomm’s 4G services could be around a month away. The Reliance Industries-owned telecom company’s maiden plan — likely to be called Freedom — may offer free voice services bundled with data, priced at least 25% lower than current offerings of top rivals.
Three people familiar with Jio’s plans said teams across the organisation have been informed about the impending launch, well ahead of the widely anticipated December timeline. The plan’s name is a reference to India’s Independence day falling in August, according to the people cited.
The launch could be on August 15, according to these people. “The teams had been forewarned about a launch thrice earlier. But this time, the management means business,” said one of people.
Described as the world’s biggest startup with an investment of Rs 1,50,000 crore, The launch has been six years in the making since RIL re-entered the telecom sector by buying a company which had won pan-India 4G airwaves in an auction in 2010.
The launch is likely to unleash a tariff war, if the Freedom plan described by the people cited is anything to go by.
Cheaper data packs
The free-voice offer aims to hit incumbent operators such as Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular, which still draw 80% of their revenues from voice. To avail of the free voice plan, Jio subscribers will need to buy data packs, which will offer 1GB at around Rs 80, another person quoted earlier said. This compares with around Rs100-120 for 1GB offered by current operators.
This could lead to a steep fall in the price of data. Top industry leaders, including Bharti Airtel Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal, have predicted massive tariff erosion following Jio’s entry.
HSBC expects Jio to garner subscriber market share of over 15% in the next four years by offering faster data speeds at lower prices. It also expects a drop of 10-15% in headline data rates over the next three months and around 30% by end of March 2017. Emails to Reliance Jio went unanswered.
Jio is simultaneously talking to telecom tower companies to rent a large number of sites. Figures quoted by vendors vary between 35,000 and 60,000 sites.
Initial signs of Jio preparing for a commercial launch came in early June when it began selling Lyf smartphones with SIM cards enabled for highspeed data services in bigger cities.
This was the first time regular consumers started getting access to the company’s 4G network, after the conglomerate opened up services for employees late last year.
The SIM cards came with three months of free unlimited data and 4,500 minutes of voice calls, suggesting that a commercial launch — even if limited — may be round the corner.
The telco, in early June, also launched Jio.com, the website through which consumers can register and obtain Jio connections.
The new website has helped the company build a database of potential customers while providing a preview of Jio’s app-based content services such as MyJio, JioChat, Jio-Play, JioOnDemand, etc.
In 2002, Reliance Infocomm, the telecom unit of the undivided Reliance Industries, changed the dynamics of the sector, bringing call rates down by more than half, making incoming calls free and subsidising handsets in a plan it called ‘Monsoon Hungama’. The aim of the new telecom company, Jio, is to do the same for Internet consumption.
Back in 2010, Jio acquired 4G spectrum in the 2300 MHz band, and has since strengthened its holdings in the 850 MHz and 1800 MHz bands. The 850 MHz band has the best propagation properties, and a network on that is being switched on gradually on a city by city basis, said two of the people quoted earlier.