Akash and Isha Ambani, children of Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) chairman and India’s richest billionaire Mukesh Ambani, decided to showcase the new YouTube application specially designed by the Google-owned company for Reliance Jio Infocomm’s Rs 1,500 feature phone by airing a trailer of Sanju, a recent biopic on the life of Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt.
In the trailer, actor Ranbir Kapoor (who essays the role of Dutt) tells the audience: “Kursi ki peti baandh lijiye. Mausam bigadne waala hain (Please fasten your seatbelts. The weather is likely to worsen).” Though the intent of airing this teaser may have been nothing more than showing the JioPhone’s new capabilities, it didn’t fail to serve as a metaphor for the latest round of shakeup expected in the telecom sector, following RIL’s slew of announcements at its annual general meeting (AGM) in Mumbai’s Birla Matoshree auditorium on Thursday.
Along widely anticipated lines, Jio announced its entry into the fixed line broadband space through a new product called Jio GigaFiber, which will allow high-speed data connectivity in your living rooms. This broadband capability will not merely let you surf the Internet on your phone, but will also set up a smart home that can be monitored and controlled remotely over a smartphone, offer access to high-definition TV and video-on-demand services, as well as video conferencing on your LED panels. Almost on cue, shares of listed broadband and cable TV service providers such as Hathway became victims of this turbulence by losing as much as 16% of their market value while Ambani’s AGM speech was on.
Jio, which launched high-speed wireless broadband services in September 2016, has notched up 215 million customers already. Around 240 crore GB per month of 4G data is consumed on its network, double of what was consumed a year ago. But Ambani isn’t content as he shares the same vision as his father and RIL’s founder Dhirubhai Ambani—to corner the greatest possible share of the Indian consumer’s wallet.
Among other key announcements at the AGM was the introduction of JioPhone 2, a higher-end feature phone that will have a Qwerty keypad and screen rotation, priced at Rs 2,999. There are also plans to launch a new hybrid, online-offline commerce platform that will leverage Reliance Retail’s network and Jio’s strong technological platform. Though Ambani didn’t specify the exact nature of this new commerce channel, speculations were rife within minutes of his speech that the new offering might take on the likes of Amazon and Flipkart in India.
While Ambani’s AGM speeches are usually replete with references to the soaring heights that his company reaches every year, the 61-year-old billionaire’s choice of adjectives to define RIL’s future at the Birla Matoshree auditorium were unusually definitve. He kicked off his annual address to shareholders by stating that this was the first AGM of RIL’s “golden decade”. He added that the conglomerate, with a market value of Rs 6.2 lakh crore, had reached an “inflection point”.
“Reliance has reinvented itself as a technology platform company with hyper growth engines of value creation,” Ambani said to a packed audience, which included members of his family and the RIL senior management. “We are determined to connect everyone and everything, everywhere, always at the highest quality and the most affordable price.”
Ambani said that Jio GigaFiber, another product of the Rs 2.5 lakh crore-investment that RIL has pumped into building its telecom business, was being beta tested in “tens of thousands” of households across the country. Those interested in availing the service need to evince interest from August 15 onwards. The service will be bundled with GigaTV (television, video, and conference calling services) and SmartHome (which will use electronic accessories to enable all appliances and switches in a house to be digitally controlled, as well as allow for security surveillance).
“While India has pole-vaulted into global leadership in the mobile broadband space, we still lag behind significantly in fixed-line broadband,” Ambani said. “India is ranked quite low at 134 in the global ranking for fixed broadband. Jio is determined to move India to among the top five in fixed-line broadband too.”
In a smart move, RIL has decided to roll out GigaFiber in localities that evince maximum interest first. This will allow for word-of-mouth marketing, and also help Jio prioritise the areas from which it would like to commence operations. However, Ambani was silent on the price point at which the GigaFiber would be offered and that, according to some observers, could be the next trigger for the re-rating of RIL’s share price, as well as that of other broadband and DTH players.
Though details of the new commerce platform are yet to emerge, Ambani made it clear that it would seek to leverage the combined strength and synergies between Jio’s 21.5 crore customers, Reliance Retail’s 35 core customers, 3 crore small merchants and shopkeepers, and the 5 crore households that RIL intends to target with GigaFiber.
“Through the deployment of merchant point of sale for small shop owners, we will enable them to do everything those large enterprises and large commerce players are able to do,” Ambani said. “Our new commerce platform will redefine retail in India by enabling all customers—rich or poor, whether at home or on mobile—to transition from simple shopping to personalised immersive shopping experience.”
There were other announcements as well, including the proposed cross-border merger of Reliance Holding USA with the parent company, which will enable an integration of RIL’s overseas gas assets, such as shale acreage in the US with the domestic gas economy in India. But they paled in comparison to the mega plans announced for Jio.