India’s 4G newcomer Reliance Jio announced it will start charging for data on 1 April after its extended free voice and data offers expire, but it will offer a special discount rate for existing customers.
Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Jio’s parent company Reliance Industries, said customers signing up by end-March can enrol in “Jio Prime” membership for INR99 ($1.48), which gives them unlimited data and free voice for a year for INR303 ($4.52) a month.
Ambani said last week Jio signed up 100 million subscribers in its first five months of operation, hitting its launch target ahead of schedule.
In a speech broadcast live on Reliance Industries’ social media accounts yesterday, he said domestic voice calls will always remain free.
Ambani in December extended Jio’s free voice, data and video offer from the end of 2016 to the end of March, as part of a special new year offer. The upstart said in January it was figuring out tariff plans to apply after its expanded free data offers ended, with the operator expected to start 4G data plans with free voice at INR100 ($1.50) per month.
The country’s three largest operators have all been forced to introduce expanded data offers, which is impacting their profitability. In January, market leader Bharti Airtel reported a sharp drop in profit for its fiscal Q3 as lower data and voice tariffs in its domestic market pulled down its turnover for the first time since 2002. Idea Cellular, India’s third largest mobile operator, reported its first-ever quarterly net loss in its fiscal Q3, which it attributed to a price war kicked off by Jio.
Airtel filed a complaint against Jio with the country’s competition regulator in early February, accusing the upstart of predatory pricing and of abusing its dominant position. TRAI earlier rejected petitions filed by Airtel and Idea questioning the validity of Jio’s extension of its free offer.
Ambani said the operator plans to more than double its data capacity to keep up with rising data demand and its growing customer base. Jio has 140,000 base stations across the country, which he claimed is twice the number of 4G sites of all the other operators combined.
He said by the end of the year its network coverage will reach 99 per cent of the population.
Jio said in a statement its average data speed, according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s speed analytics portal and other independent agencies, was 9.8Mb/s compared with a range of 4.2Mb/s to 5.9Mb/s for the other players.