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Reliance Jio: The Disruptive Giant Now Trains Its Eyes Towards Broadband Segment 

Photo: INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images
Snapshot
  • Reliance Jio today has close to 340 million subscribers and had disrupted the entire Internet data segment in the process.

    Now, Jio is entering the broadband segment. What will this second disruption look like?

In early 2016, people were paying anywhere between Rs 250 and Rs 310 for a single gigabyte of mobile data. Thus, watching a couple of YouTube videos alone would exhaust one’s mobile data pack. To add to this, the data costs alienated the indispensable rural market of India.

And then, Jio arrived.

From paying Rs 300 for a single gigabyte of data, people now had the option of enjoying unlimited data, without paying any bills, for the first six to nine months.

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For urban India, this was like a party with the best music and free food and drinks. For rural India, this was a pass to the party they thought they would never be invited to.

Today, India’s average consumption per month for mobile data stands close to 8GB, twice of that of the United States. The price went from an exuberant Rs 250-odd a month to a single rupee, bundled with voice calls and in some cases, phone insurance.

While the government’s success with the Direct Benefit Transfers (DBTs) showed the potential of a mobile phone, it was the digital publishing business groups that basked in the glory of cheap Internet.

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T-Series, a music production company based out of Mumbai, today has over 110 million subscribers on YouTube. If the subscriber count from all their regional music channels is added to the main count, it surpasses 190 million, more than the population of 188 countries.

The trends aren’t restricted to YouTube alone. Hotstar, India’s top streaming service owned by Disney registered 18 million concurrent viewers during the final of the Indian Premier League in 2019. The overall viewership of the tournament was in excess of 300 million.

The India-New Zealand cricket World Cup semi-final registered 25 million concurrent viewers for Hotstar. In India, Facebook’s user count stands at 250 million, Instagram’s is 90-100 million, Twitter’s is 35 million, and the recent rage, TikTok’s is more than 125 million.

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Overall, India has over 600 million active Internet users in 2019 against 277 million in 2015, thus making it the world’s biggest digital market, second only to China. The 100 per cent jump in user base is the doing of Jio’s telecom revolution. Interestingly, Jio’s subscriber count alone is 340 million.

However, last month, at the annual general meeting of the Reliance Group, chairman Mukesh Ambani announced a slew of surprises.

Turns out, Jio telecom was only a part of Reliance’s plan, for there were four components in this digital disruption — Internet of Things (IoT), home broadband, enterprise broadband, and broadband for small and medium businesses. This was India’s first introduction to the complete Jio ecosystem.

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The party was not only going to continue, but it was also going to be bigger, much bigger.

Firstly, the IoT. Reliance has developed a new service on its already existing 4G network, called the NBIoT, or the Narrowband Internet-of-Things. This will enable data collection from IoT compatible devices across India.

From something as significant as electricity meters to smart refrigerators, smartwatches, smart fire alarm systems, smart door locks, smart bicycles, medical sensors, fitness trackers, smart security systems, to name a few, the IoT network will be an enabler for data sharing, monitoring, and analytical purposes.

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Starting from 1 January 2020, the company aims to connect over a billion devices on its IoT network.

There are more than one second-order effects of this.

One, it could aid the growth of the sale of smart devices in the upcoming decade. As we saw with smartphones and now smart wearables, the market for smart devices is a huge one, especially in India. For manufacturers already invested in the IoT technologies, this is a welcome move.

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Two, given the market for IoT in India, the government must press hard for data localisation. This will also be critical to the rise of an industry-driven by services in the realm of data intelligence, analytics, and artificial intelligence.

Three, it could open up new frontiers for innovation. For instance, around 2030, Ayushman Bharat, India’s national healthcare scheme, could well be using data from IoT devices for preventive healthcare while relevant local and state agencies use data from smart cars to study traffic patterns and vehicle densities.

Then comes the home broadband. If Jio’s telecom tryst ensured a mobile phone with internet in every household in India, Jio’s home broadband, or Jio GigaFiber as it is called, will possibly ensure every member of every household in India has access to the Internet. Already, the company has invested nearly Rs 3.5 lakh crore in creating the required infrastructure across India.

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What makes Jio GigaFiber a broadband disruption are not its cheap costing and high-speed offerings, but the bundle that comes along: a landline phone connection, a digital set-top-box that promises high definition entertainment, virtual reality content, option for multi-party video conferencing, voice-enabled virtual assistants, interactive gaming, home security, and other smart-home solutions.

This again opens up opportunities for different industries.

One, it’s a new age for local cable operators (LCOs) that saw an end to their monopoly from direct-to-home (DTH) operators. Already, the company has indirectly tied up with 30,000 LCOs across the country. The Jio set-top-box has been calibrated to accept broadcast TV signals from these LCOs.

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Two, it will aid the traditional online industries like e-commerce, online education, and so forth. By the mid-2020s, it shall not be uncommon for leading public and private universities in India to offer digital courses, similar to how their foreign counterparts now do.

The rise in e-commerce spending will ensure better returns for local manufacturers and sellers, will aid cashless spending, growth of the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industries, and possibly, hyperlocal delivery services that go beyond burning cash (yes, I called you out, Uber).

Already, forecasts put the e-commerce market size at $200 billion by 2027. The Jio GigaFiber could aggravate this forecast.

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Three, the Jio GigaFiber plan comes with the bundled subscriptions to over-the-top (OTT) platforms. The numbers that Hotstar was able to achieve with streaming plans for peripheral devices will be dwarfed in the near future.

Irrespective of which platforms come aboard, the rise of OTT in India will be a boost for regional cinema. Also, Jio’s unprecedented first-day-first-show service could be the end of small production houses’ and artists’ alienation from the mainstream cinema.

This will open up employment opportunities across India and across industries, from production to advertising. This could well be the decade when regressive TV serial content becomes obsolete.

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Four, other professions like gaming and virtual reality application development will become mainstream. For an IT industry obsessed with services, product development could open new fronts of innovation and revenue.

Lastly, broadband plans and enterprise solutions for small, medium, and large enterprises would go a long way in cutting down the infrastructure costs.

For India to have the lowest unemployment levels, it will be essential for jobs to be created outside the conventional industries, and the Jio ecosystem may well aid in that.

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Quantifying the value of the Jio ecosystem based on its revenues alone in the next 10 years would be a mistake, for its real value must be gauged by the industries it transforms, and most importantly, what it does to India’s socio-economic development.

One must look beyond its $10 costing to the $1,000,000,000,000 (and more) disruption it shall usher in the 2020s.

A small step towards better Internet might just be a giant leap towards being a $5 trillion economy.

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