LIVE FROM TM FORUM DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION WORLD, NICE, FRANCE: Reliance Jio was hailed as a poster boy for the mobile industry, as it revealed it achieved a milestone by signing up 200 million subscribers since its launch in September 2016.

The India-based operator seemed pleased with the new moniker, which was bestowed on it by conference moderator Mark Newman, chief analyst at TM Forum (pictured, far left). The title seems well earned, given Jio reported subscriber numbers stood at 187 million at end-March.

“I brought my partners in crime,” quipped Steffen Roehn, founder and CEO of Roehn Management Consulting, and senior adviser at Jio (pictured, far right).

The operator cited other key milestones, such as reaching 99 per cent population coverage with its LTE network and increasing the average mobile data usage per subscriber to 10GB per month. It pointed out that when Jio launched, Indian consumers were consuming as little as 0.5GB per month and were largely limited to 3G services.

Newman suggested Jio would face fewer challenges when transforming into a digital services provider given its relative “greenfield status” compared with the likes of Verizon and Telefonica, for example.

Indeed, Verizon’s CIO Shankar Arumugavelu, described how the US operator expanded through a number of acquisitions which required “a lot of heavy lifting in the early stages”, although he said Verizon now has a single billing system for wireless and fixed broadband customers.

Speaking later to Mobile World Live, Kiran Thomas, president of Reliance Industries and a director on Jio’s board (pictured, second from right), and Anish Shah, president of digital platforms and IT at the operator (pictured, second from left), said there were certainly advantages in coming to market with very little baggage compared to more established players.

For instance, Jio had the benefit of hindsight and the opportunity to follow certain sound principles, such as building a 100 per cent IP-based 4G network throughout India which is infinitely scalable, includes network functions virtualisation (NFV) and is upgradable to 5G.

The operator also created a portfolio of mobile-first digital services to encourage Indian subscribers to use its network from the outset. To drive take-up initially, Jio offered all services for free for the first six months and only started charging in April 2017. Thomas said plans costing around INR400 ($5.86) a month now form the operator’s “sweet spot”, but its business model is based more on how much its network is used rather than average revenue per user.

Challenger challenges
Despite all its advantages, Jio still faces a deal of work ahead as it transitions its network into an open source-based architecture.

The operator’s network was initially almost entirely based on off-the-shelf equipment from the likes of Samsung, Ericsson and Nokia on the LTE network side, and Ericsson, HP, SAP and Tibco Software on the OSS/BSS side. However, it started out with very clear design principles including a fully scalable API layer and was conscious from the outset it would need to be open to change.

Now, Jio believes it can do better with open source as well as its own, internally sourced solutions, including digital services launched under the Jio brand.

In the coming years, its focus will be on increased levels of automation, the provision of more bandwidth-guzzling data services including games and HD video, and improving speed to market.

The operator also intends to ensure that it, as well as India as a whole, plays a key role in the fourth industrial revolution. Other future areas of focus include education, healthcare, agriculture and government services.

Of course, 5G is in its sights and it is already using its spectrum in the 850MHz, 1800MHz and 2300MHz bands to trial 5G technology.

– Anne Morris, contributing reporter, Mobile World Live