To begin with, in the 42nd annual general meeting (AGM) speech, Ambani took the high digital position by underscoring the fact that almost every conceivable emerging technology trend is present in the Jio fold—be that artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), blockchain, online multiplayer gaming, multi-party videoconferencing, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR).
Since, Reliance Industries already has its payments ecosystem, is fortifying its e-commerce play, has 3D printing capabilities and uses robotics, robotic process automation and advanced analytics comprehensively in its oil fields and telecom services, these services make up the so-called Industry 4.0 trend, consequently highlighting the intended positioning of Reliance Industries and Jio as the new poster boys of digital transformation in India. As Ambani said in his speech, “Jio has truly become the Digital Gateway of India."
It’s not only Indian telcos—in particular, Bharti Airtel and the Idea Vodafone—that Ambani has targeted. By partnering with Microsoft Corp., to offer solutions comprising connectivity, computing, storage solutions, and other technology services and applications such as data analytics, AI, cognitive services, blockchain, IoT and edge computing to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), Reliance Industries has in a single swoop challenged the likes of Amazon Web Services, Google and a host of smaller- and mid-sized data centres and software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies.
RIL has done so by offering multiple digital services—whether they be smart home solutions atop the Jio Giga Fibre (with speeds of 100 Mbps to 1Gbps), remote video-conferencing facilities, to cloud-based productivity and collaboration tools available with Microsoft 365, applications using the Microsoft Azure cloud platform that will be deployed in Jio data centres. These data centres will be “fully operational in calendar year 2020", according to Ambani.
Ambani is bullish on the power of IoT. Jio, plans to use narrow-band IoT, or NB-IoT, data from billions of smart sensors—whether residential homes or industrial places, from across India. NB-IoT is a low-power wide-area network radio technology standard developed by 3GPP, a standards organization, to enable a wide range of cellular devices and services.
Last month, the Indian Institute of Kanpur and Ericsson said they will jointly deploy an NB-IoT-based sensor network to monitor air pollution in Delhi. Ambani cited the example of digitally “connecting over 300 million electricity meters for real-time monitoring and giving consumers full visibility and control of cost and quality". He predicts there will be more than 2 billion connected devices in India in the next two years. Since Jio aims to connect “at least 1 billion of these on Jio’s IoT platform, it translates into a ₹20,000 crore annual revenue opportunity", according to Ambani.
That said, currently these NB-IoT services have been developed on Jio’s 4G networks. With 5G on the anvil, things could only get better for Jio since 5G is a data-only technology, but spectrum issues (both availability and price) are yet to be sorted out.
Further, interoperability and security of IoT devices remain major hurdles that will only get compounded with the rise in connected devices.
That said, the fact that Jio is getting serious about enterprises is also demonstrated from Ambani’s focus on startups. Jio has invested in 14 startups till date, and the mixed reality and edge computing demos at the AGM were from the a couple of the startups that Jio invested in. Besides, Ambani said he will make cloud infrastructure free for “budding startups" while offering them for just ₹1,500 to SMEs.
Over the next 12 months, Jio will also install one of the largest global blockchain networks in India, comprising “tens of thousands of nodes operational on day one". Further, aimed at delivering immersive content that creates “new possibilities for entertainment, shopping, gaming and most importantly for education", Jio is setting up a pan-India ‘Edge Computing and Content Distribution’ with multiple nodes.
Tying the blockchain and edge computing (effectively, getting data nearer to end-use devices) strategies with cloud computing services from Microsoft, Mukesh Ambani wants to develop “truly India-native solutions including Speech Recognition and Natural language understanding for all major Indian languages and dialects", all moves that make it a major competitor in the enterprise segment.
The vision, according to Ambani, is to underscore Jio’s “contribution to transform India into an AI-first economy across all sectors and all walks of life". “It is my passion and conviction that New India will lead and not follow the advanced nations of the world in adopting, even creating disruptive technologies that will decide the winners and losers of the Fourth Industrial Revolution," Ambani said in his speech.
While he did make the right noises, all these initiatives will require more investment, especially for a company that already has a net debt of ₹1.55 trillion. Ambani, though, has announced that he wants to make Reliance Industries a zero net-debt company by 2021.
Digital Transformation is a major lever for him on this journey. He reasons that since India is a $2.5 trillion economy and large economies typically spend 3-5% of their GDP on digital services, “...even at 3%, this translates to a potential Indian digital service spend of nearly ₹5,00,000 crore ( ₹5 trillion) annually", of which Jio can “earn a significant proportion".