With his multi-billion-dollar investment in telecom services well on track, Reliance Industries Ltd chairman Mukesh Ambani on Friday signalled the start of the next investment cycle, which might see the group venture into agriculture, education and healthcare.
In its last cycle, the group invested $60 billion in India, largely through Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, which has placed India on the cusp of becoming the country with the world’s largest data network.
“We have nearly completed this investment cycle. We are now ready to commit even more in our next investment cycle. We are doing this out of our undiminished conviction that India is the biggest investment opportunity in the world," Ambani said at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in New Delhi.
“As we move forward, we will look at issues that create more and more value for all Indians. I think agriculture is difficult; education is important; healthcare is the most difficult. We can only think about what we can do in each of these areas," he said.
“What we did with Jio, not many in the world had backed us but... India in terms of the data infra will be ahead of the US by 2019," he added.
According to Ambani, Jio is on course to turning profitable as the company is already ahead of schedule in terms of the returns it is generating.
Jio disrupted India’s telecom sector with ultra-cheap offerings that made data available to millions of Indians and made India the largest consumer of data in the world, ahead of even the US and China. Ambani said that India is now No. 1 in the broadband connectivity index as against 150th before Jio’s launch.
Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of Bharti Airtel Ltd, which has been locked in a fierce turf battle with Jio, said in a recent interview with The Economic Times that Jio has made the industry write off as much as $50 billion since its launch.
Ambani has a different take and continues to consider Mittal his “friend" but believes that the industry should not be dependent on regulations or policies for profits.
“For all of us within the industry, profits and losses are risks that we take. I don’t think that we can rely on regulators or governments to make profits. For us, the most important (thing) is: do we really move the country forward and does the consumer gain? So, even if there are profits and losses, who gains and who loses? If the consumer gains and the country moves forward, it is worth taking those losses. Some of us are big boys, we can afford that," he said.
Ambani also said that India potentially offers the world’s largest investment opportunity as data connectivity and artificial intelligence converge to trigger a new industrial revolution that could vault Asia’s third biggest economy past China and the US in economic prosperity. This convergence has the potential to transform agricultural productivity, healthcare services and education to empower a new generation.
“Data is not only the new oil, data is also the new soil," said Ambani.
His blueprint for the next industrial revolution involves use of digital infrastructure and technology in the farm sector to bring about a green revolution by rejuvenating soil and improving efficiency in supply chains. In the education sector, mobile and data services through Jio and artificial intelligence could connect students in remote villages to faculty in the most advanced universities for delivering personalized lessons. In healthcare, data connectivity can help in delivering health services remotely.