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Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd will launch its services in the next six to eight months. Photo:Pradip Gaur/Mint
Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd will launch its services in the next six to eight months. Photo:Pradip Gaur/Mint

Inside Reliance Jio’s plans for telecom, information, entertainment

RIL's launch of 4G services will challenge telecom firms, DTH companies, and will seek to change dynamics of education, entertainment

New Delhi: Reliance Industries Limited’s (RIL’s) much anticipated (and also much-delayed) launch of data-rich 4G (or fourth generation) services will, apart from challenging telcos and cable and DTH (or direct-to-home) television companies, also seek to change the dynamics of the education, entertainment, financial services and healthcare businesses in the country, according to executives at the company and its rivals, and details from its annual report for 2013-14.

Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd will launch its services in the next six to eight months, two RIL executives familiar with the company’s plans said, asking not to be identified.

The picture that emerges from Mint’s reporting is of a strategy that will leverage the use of advanced technologies to deliver high-speed data, combined with content and applications designed to appeal to individual and corporate customers.

The picture is also strongly reminiscent of the so-called triple play (communication, information, entertainment) model Reliance Infocomm touted when it was launched by RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani before it went to his younger brother Anil Ambani under a family settlement and became Reliance Communications.

Reliance Jio’s launch has been delayed several times. The service was originally expected to launch in December 2013.

The businesses

According to the latest annual report of the company, Reliance Jio, which acquired spectrum for 4G services in 2010, “plans to enable end-to-end solutions that address the entire value chain across various digital domains of national interest such as education, healthcare, security, financial services, government citizen interfaces and entertainment".

The two executives cited above singled out entertainment as a “big part" of Reliance Jio’s strategy. The company plans to offer its subscribers access to 200 channels of which 160 will be HD. It will automatically store TV shows on these channels for seven days on the cloud, and subscribers can access and watch them—without having to record them. The executives said that Reliance Jio will also offer a video-on-demand service, tapping a library of 450 movies and episodes of popular TV series.

The importance Reliance Jio is placing on entertainment is understandable.

Video has emerged as a significant driver of data traffic. Indians were already spending 19 billion minutes watching miscellaneous videos online every month in October 2013, according to data from GroupM, the media agency of WPP Group. And smartphone users spend anywhere between 84 minutes to 114 minutes per month on video apps such as YouTube, and nexGTv across different age groups according to October 2013 data from Nielsen Informate Mobile Insights.

Experts also say the shift to online videos, which has come at the cost of TV, marks a fundamental change in viewing habits—from so-called linear TV to binge consumption.

That could derail the plans of DTH and cable companies which are counting on the high cost of live-streaming channels through 4G networks working to their own advantage.

“If you look at it globally, this format has not made inroads into the DTH industry. The transmission bandwidth required and the cost associated have been a deterrent in the development of IPTV, or Internet protocol television," Dish TV’s chief executive R.C. Venkateish said.

“Consumers are technology-agnostic, they need best-quality entertainment at competitive prices. Whosoever can provide that is going to win," said Vikram Mehra, chief commercial officer at Tata Sky, another DTH company.

Entertainment is not the only arrow in Reliance’s Jio’s quiver. In healthcare, the company is currently experimenting with various forms of telemedicine, according to one of the two executives. This includes keeping a patient’s complete medical history stored in the cloud, accessible anywhere and at any time; providing subscribers with wearable devices that will upload necessary physiological data for viewing by a doctor; and video conferencing between doctors and patients.

In education, the same person added, Reliance Jio will leverage its 38.5% stake in digital learning solutions company Extramarks Education, acquired in 2011, to provide textbook and other study material, including videos, for use by students and teachers.

The technology

Reliance Jio will launch its services using several technologies, including the two rival 4G high-speed wireless technologies, as well as other network options like FTTx (fibre to the location) and WiFi.

According to RIL’s annual report, Reliance Jio will use FTTx in 900 cities and towns, and has already activated WiFi hotspots in many parts of the country.

FTTx refers to a broadband network architecture that uses optical fibre, partially or completely, to provide high-speed data connectivity to a fixed location. WiFi (wireless fidelity) is a technology that allows an electronic device to exchange data or connect to the Internet wirelessly.

This is in addition to existing plans of providing 4G services using the two competing technologies. Reliance Jio acquired 1800MHz band spectrum in 14 circles across the country for 11,054 crore in the February auction. It acquired 20MHz blocks of 2300MHz spectrum in all 22 circles in 2010.

“Reliance Jio plans to use this 1800 MHZ spectrum in conjunction with its pan-India 2300 MHz spectrum to address the surge in demand for digital services as well as to enhance in-building coverage. Reliance Jio plans to provide seamless 4G services using FDD-LTE on 1800MHz and TDD-LTE on 2300MHZ though an integrated ecosystem," the annual report said.

TDD-LTE (Time-Division Duplex) and FDD-LTE (frequency division duplexing) are rival 4G telecommunications technology standards, also known as Long Term Evolution, or LTE, standards.

An executive at a technology vendor to Reliance Jio said the company would use a range of devices including some that can work across technology platforms although its immediate problem is that the “device ecosystem (for 4G) is yet to mature".

This person spoke on condition of anonymity.

The two executives at the company said that Reliance Jio is already testing out the services through so-called product experience pilots at Navi Mumbai and Jamnagar.

Parent RIL s is expected to invest around $10 billion in the venture.

Reliance Jio has signed multiple tower sharing agreements with Bharti Infratel Ltd, Reliance Infratel Ltd, Viom Networks Ltd, Tower Vision India and ATC India Tower Corp. and is also building its own towers. The company has optical fibre-sharing agreements with Bharti Airtel Ltd and Reliance Communications Ltd.

The executives said Reliance Jio is also looking at offering Voice over LTE (VoLTE), a service the company showcased in Barcelona at the World Mobile Congress earlier this year, with China Mobile. It acquired the new unified licence that allows it to also offer voice services from the department of telecommunications in October 2013.

The challenge, though, could well be pricing.

Results of Vodafone India Services Pvt. Ltd, Bharti Airtel, and Idea Cellular Ltd for the three months ended 31 March indicate a shift to data, and a sharp fall in data tariffs.

RIL is no stranger to price wars. It launched the first such in India’s telecom market in the early 2000s when its then-subsidiary Reliance Infocomm started a bundled device-plus-service plan.

The lock-ins were the main reason the company failed initially, said the technology vendor.

“They are unlikely to follow that model."

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