Reliance rattles Indian telcos again by unveiling 'free' 4G phone

Posted July 22, 2017

The much-awaited phone was launched by Ambani's son and daughter Akash and Isha Ambani.

The scrip of Dish TV India plunged 5.85 per cent, Sun TV Network went down by 2.65 per cent, Hathway Cable & Datacom fell 2.58 per cent, GTPL Hathway (2.28 per cent) and Den Networks (0.13 per cent) on BSE.

Despite Jio's rapid rise, funded by mega profits churned out of parent Reliance Industries' (RELI.NS) core petrochemicals unit, it has been unable to tap over 500 million non-smartphone users in India, who still rely on old feature phones to make calls and send text messages, as its network only supports 4G-enabled phones. "TV would also hurt the cable TV industry", said Nitasha Shankar, Sr Vice President and Head of Research, YES Securities.

Ambani said they plan to collect refundable deposit of Rs 1500 from users to protect misuse of the free offer.

The deposit will be refunded after 36 months on return of the phone.

The phone will come with free voice calls and SMS to customers.

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But they largely played down the potential disruption levels likely to be caused by the JioPhone in the telecom market as they remain skeptical about the Mukesh Ambani-run telco's chances of increasing revenue and grabbing top-end customers merely on the strength of an attractive handset bundling deal.

"The launch of the JioPhone will fulfill the dream of our founder Dhirubhai Ambani, and the Digital India vision of our Prime Minister Narendra Modi", Mukesh Ambani said.

The phone will support 22 Indian languages and can be connected to any TV to watch videos. The company could ask for a security deposit of Rs 4,500 for its JioFiber broadband service, as a refundable amount. It will be available from 15 August onwards for testing, pre-booking for JioPhone will start from 24 of August onwards and it will be available for purchase starting September on first come first serve basis. He said the target customer for Jio is now spending about Rs 50-60 a month, so it will be a challenge for them to double that budget overnight.

The Jio phone boasts of front and back cameras and a 200mAh battery, NFC (near-field communication) capabilities, and comes pre-loaded with Jio apps.

The mood was upbeat as Ambani announced that "Jio, in next 12 months, will cover 99 per cent of our country's population". "We will soon have over 10,000 Jio offices, across every city and tehsil town of India. In addition, we will integrate with all major e-commerce platforms", he said, laying out the new phone's distribution plans.

From 3,500 employees in 1997, RIL now has a total staff strength of 250,000 worldwide, Ambani added. "Now India is number 1 in mobile data consumption and well on its way to becoming number 1 in mobile broadband penetration, in the coming months". "A lot of them have recharged on Jio's Rs 309 or higher plans", he added.