FE Exclusive: Price finally right for Reliance Jio service roll-out
The delay in roll-out of Reliance Jio operations was a boon in disguise for RIL’s telecom arm as it was able to build the largest spectrum bank along with the 2300 MHz which it already had.
While analysts and industry observers have always speculated on the reasons for the delay in the roll-out of Reliance Jio Infocomm’s commercial services, the group’s technology head Jyotindra Thacker has for the first time revealed that the company was waiting for LTE devices to become more affordable for Indian masses.
However, this ended up being a boon in disguise as in the interim the government auctioned spectrum in 1800 and 800 MHz bands, enabling the company to build the largest spectrum bank along with the 2300 MHz which it already had.
In a candid conversation with the Express Group’s wholetime director and head — new media Anant Goenka after receiving the Technology Senator of the year award at the recent 13th edition of Express Technology Senate, Thacker said in 2010-11 the company had chosen LTE technology and had expected that in about three years handsets would be available in the affordable price range.
But this did not happen. In the interim, the government auctioned spectrum in other bands and RJio acquired spectrum in 1800 and 800 MHz bands and approached US-based chip maker Qualcomm with its plans to launch LTE services on these bands. As Qualcomm was following a similar path, things moved.
“Since handsets were not going to be available at the price point which is affordable to the masses of India there was no point in basically launching our business. So we thought we might as well wait for one more year,” Thacker said, adding that this year finally everyone was talking about Rs 5,000 handsets, an affordable price point.
“Learning lessons from Korea, Japan and USA, we knew that the only way a wireless operator can be dominant player is with a large amount of spectrum,” he said, adding that the company never thought the government would auction the spectrum so fast.
RJio is the only operator to have 20 MHz spectrum across the country’s 22 circles and later also acquired airwaves in 1800 and 800 MHz bands. Today the company has 1800 MHz spectrum across 18 circles and 800 MHz in 10 circles. As a result, having spent Rs 34,000 crore in acquiring spectrum assets in the last five years, RJio has the largest footprint of liberalised spectrum in the country and is suitably positioned to provide a range of voice and high-speed data services.
Talking about the bouquet of apps that the company would be unleashing with the launch of its services, Thacker said, “We did not want to just create a dump pipe for others to ride on it. So we wanted to basically create some intelligence into the network, and apps and an economy around it. Apps and bandwidth typically go together and that’s when it becomes a viable proposition for the end user also.”
In April, RJio had launched an application — Jio Chat — which integrates chat, voice, video calling, etc, and within the very first few weeks it had notched up a subscriber base of over a million.
On what all to expect from the company, Thacker said the company would be unleashing bandwidth first. But there will also be a plethora of devices like dongles, battery efficient MiFi cards and tablets. “Initially, it will be Wi-Fi tablets only as LTE tablets are still not very popular,” he said.
Thacker also said that unlike other companies that claim to be good in technology but outsource in the end, Reliance would manage things in-house. “If Reliance wants to is use a technology, then it is better to be doing on its own… We would love to do it first on our own and make sure it is perfected rather than let the vendor run it at our expense. If you really want to implement a technology and take value out of it, you should get your hands dirty.”
“Technology companies have to be run by technologists. So if you say that Reliance is a technology company then it has to be managed by such people and in that case I think Mukesh Ambani is a good mix of technology and commercial, because he understands and goes deep into reading everything, tries to understand everything,” he added.