Reliance Jio chairman and billionaire Mukhesh Ambani claims that his mobile telecommunications network has amassed more than 50 million subscribers in its first three months, growing faster than tech giants like Facebook and WhatsApp.
“[It’s] the fastest growing technology company not only in India, but in the history of the world,” Ambani was quoted as saying.
For six months, Reliance Jio will be offering free mobile data and Internet-based calling within India, forcing competitors to cut prices and making it more affordable for Indian customers.
“Starting December 4, 2016, every new Jio user will get Jio’s data, voice, video and the full bouquet of Jio applications absolutely free till March 31, 2017,” Ambani told Onmanorama earlier in December.
India has more than 1 billion cellphone users, but only about one-third of the population go online regularly, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Ambani, who has a net worth of $23 billion, said he has invested more than $22 billion in building Jio, which amounts to half of his company’s annual revenues.
“The numbers in India are staggering by any standard,” Arpita Pal Agrawal, a telecommunications industry analyst with Pricewaterhouse Coopers, told the Times. “Other than China, we are the most ripe nation — from the standpoint of numbers and the age of our population — to go digital.”
Jio rolled out in September amidst India’s demonetization initiative that banned 86% of the country’s paper currency.
The government said the move will keep unregulated cash transactions in check and raise the use of digital payments, which Jio is very familiar with.
Financially backed by Ambani’s Reliance Industries, Jio also advertises high-speed mobile data and voice-over-Internet calls that manages to work around India’s unreliable cellphone networks.
But some don’t agree with the comparisons to Facebook and WhatsApp messaging apps, with each having more than 1 billion users worldwide.
“Giving connectivity and calls for free will allow them to get a user base but that doesn’t necessarily mean the user base will stay,” said Medianama.com editor, Nikhil Pahwa. “Facebook and Whatsapp grew organically, whereas Jio spent truckloads of money on advertising and had massive media outreach coming from a multibillion-dollar conglomerate. So I don’t think they’re comparable.”
According to users, the service was infuriatingly slow at first. But speeds have improved recently, especially in cities, with more than 150,000 miles of fiber-optic cable laid out.
But the price hike after Jio’s extended period of free services has consumers worried.
Mumbai photographer Shirirang Swarge, 25, told the Times he will stick with his regular cellphone plan with British-based Vodafone, which has reduced its prices.
“I don’t plan to continue with Jio once the free offer ends,” Swarge said.