After numerous delays, extensive testing and reports that its 4G service wouldn’t be launched until December, Indian mobile newcomer Reliance Jio said its commercial operation starts today across the country’s 22 service regions.
Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Jio’s parent Reliance Industries, and India’s richest man, last week unveiled the company’s plans at its annual general meeting and said it would launch a “free welcome offer” for customers from 5 September up until 31 December.
The Jio welcome offer gives new subscribers free access to unlimited LTE data and national voice, video and messaging services, including national roaming, until the end of the year. The operator also announced that domestic voice calls to any network across the country would always be free for Jio subscribers, clarifying that that date extends beyond the end of the year.
Jio’s cheapest data offer, averaging just over INR50 ($0.7) per GB from January, will be the lowest in the world.
Taking a swipe at the incumbent players, which Jio accused of trying to sabotage its entry by deliberately not providing adequate interconnection access, Ambani said: “We expect and hope that following commencement of services, the incumbent operators would fulfill their obligations to provide adequate interconnection.”
He went on to say that “in the spirit of putting the customer-first and complete transparency”, it would report its call failure numbers on its website on a regular basis. Over the last year the country’s operators have faced strong criticism from consumer groups and the telecoms regulator about the high rate of dropped calls.
Extended testing phase
The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) kicked off a war of words a month ago when it claimed the operator was offering a full-blown mobile service disguised as a trial.
Over the past few months, Jio has been testing its network, attracting approximately 1.5 million users.
Jio said in a statement it informed the Department of Telecommunications, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and the security agencies about the start of its wireless services in all 22 service areas today. The company also filed its tariff plans for wireless services with TRAI. “With these steps, the company has fulfilled all the requirements of unified licence for commencement of services,” it said.
Ambani said it is targeting 100 million subscribers “in the shortest possible time” and the network will eventually cover 18,000 cities and 200,000 villages in India. Financial analysts estimate it needs 75-80 million subscribers in two to three years, with monthly ARPU of INR180 ($2.70), to break even, the Economic Times reported.
The company aims to have its SIMs available at nearly two million retail shops across the country, including more than 1,700 Reliance Retail stores.
Jio’s aggressive move will likely start a price war in the country, with major rivals Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular reportedly set to respond with packages that beef up their own data offerings.