Ambani’s Reliance Jio is doubling down to roll out 5G in 2021


Ambani promised last month that Jio will be the first to roll out 5G in India in the second half of this year. He’s looking to lure nearly 300 million users still on the older 2G technology offered by Jio’s rivals. — AFP

Reliance Industries Ltd’s digital unit has begun advanced tests to prepare for the roll out of fifth-generation telecom services as the conglomerate doubles down to keep its billionaire-owner Mukesh Ambani’s pledge of offering the high-speed network this year.

Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, India’s largest wireless operator, is testing the transmission speeds using locally-developed equipment, it said in a statement Jan 22. Reliance Jio, with almost 411 million users, reported a 15.5% rise in profit at 34.9bil rupees (RM1.93bil) compared with the preceding quarter while earnings margins before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation touched 47%.

The solid earnings bolster Ambani’s ambitions to transform Reliance from an energy giant into a technology titan – a transformation pitch that has received US$27bil (RM109.16bil) from global investors including Facebook Inc and Google. Ambani, Asia’s second richest man, promised last month that Jio will be the first to roll out 5G in India in the second half of this year. He’s looking to lure nearly 300 million users still on the older 2G technology offered by Jio’s rivals.

Affordable, available

“Jio will continue to accelerate the roll out of its digital platforms and indigenously developed next generation 5G stack and make it affordable and available everywhere,” Ambani, Reliance Industries’ chairman, said in the statement. “Jio is determined to make India 2G-mukt,” or 2G-free, he said.

The 63-year-old tycoon’s 5G plans, however, are contingent on the Indian government’s auction of airwaves specifically allotted for these services. No date has been announced for this spectrum auction.

Jio, backed by its cash-rich and net-debt-free parent, is in the pole position to offer 5G services, whenever government rules allow, at possibly dirt-cheap prices – an encore of its debut strategy. Reliance Jio disrupted India’s telecom market in 2016 when it entered with free calls and super cheap data, forcing rivals to merge, quit or go bankrupt.

Paying off

Ambani’s bet on consumer services – telecom and retail – seems to be paying off, helping the conglomerate offset a slump in its crude oil refining business. Even after the pandemic pummelled fuel demand and hurt Reliance’s energy businesses, the company reported a record profit in the quarter ended December, beating analyst expectations. – Bloomberg

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