Two years of Jio: How free calls, data catalysed India's digital revolution

When Mukesh Ambani launched Reliance Jio in 2016, the telecom industry was a multiplayer market, consumers were careful about their data usage and very few cared to consume video content on their mobile data network.

Cut to 2018, two years after Jio first introduced free voice calling and months of dirt-cheap data services, content is in demand like never before. 

Content provider and OTT services like Amazon Prime, Netflix, Eros Now, Voot, Hotstar, Gaana and Saavn among many others have taken off in a big way. 

Global internet giants Facebook, Google and Amazon are prioritizing Indian language services to attract internet consumers in far-flung rural areas who prefer content in local language than English.

“Jio has built a Digital Connectivity Platform of unparalleled capacity and a nation-wide reach. This has enabled Reliance to strategically reinvent itself as a Technology Platform Company,” the company said in a statement on completion of two years. 

Jio claimed that India has become the most active market for Google and Facebook, with an estimated 70 million additions in the first year of Jio’s commencement of operations.

“Digital media is evolving in India with most broadcasters trying to scale their digital presence and transform from B2B to B2C. However, with 4G penetration growing, data usage rising and fixed broadband expected to get a fillip with Jio's planned (fixed line service) launch, expectations are for a rapid evolution of the OTT market in coming years,” noted UBS technology, media, telecom analyst Navin Killa in a recent report.

While the sector has seen extreme lows with smaller players slipping into extreme losses only to be consumed by larger telcos, including the consolidation of behemoths Vodafone and Idea. From average revenue per user of (ARPU) of Rs 131 (September 2016, TRAI) the industry is still coming to terms with ARPU less than Rs 80. During this time, incumbent telcos consistently lost revenue to post double digit losses. Yet, Jio’s entry has managed to bridge the gap between Bharat and India at an unprecedented scale and speed to the extent that competitors and partners did not shy away from admitting how Jio has managed to broaden the market base for internet services.

With current 22 per cent revenue market share, some analysts are foreseeing Jio to become the largest telecom operator in the next two years given its aggressive strategy especially in rural India.

“Jio is doing especially well in the rural markets because incumbents lag Jio in 4G coverage and also due to the success of Jiophone, which has sold almost 25 million devices by June 2018,” noted Kunal Vora, research analyst, BNP Paribas in a recent report. While Jiophone (Jio’s subsidized feature phone) is expected to gain from rural adoption, other players are also aggressively trying to expand their rural presence.

The Indian language internet user base is expected to rise from 234 million in 2016 to over 536 million in 2021, according to a KPMG-Google report with 99 per cent of these users accessing internet on their mobile phones. 

One of the biggest driver of this growth has been the sharp decrease in data prices during this period as well a growth in overall internet penetration. 

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel