Jio launches ‘free’ feature phone with free voice calls and $2 unlimited data

Disruptive Indian operator Reliance Jio has launched a feature phone designed to bring millions of Indians onto its 4G network and deliver another blow to its competitors.

The inevitably-named JioPhone is positioned to appeal to the many Indians who can’t afford even entry-level smartphones and seems also designed to bridge the smartphone gap in terms of features such as voice UI and to piss off its competitors even more.

Voice calls, Jio promises, will always be free via this phone and it’s also offering ‘unlimited’ data for 153 rupees ($2-3) per month. The killer price point, however, was the device itself, which is ‘free’ in exchange for a 1,500 rupee (~$25) deposit that is refundable after three years in exchange for the used handset. It’s unclear what exceptions there are for things like damage, etc.

Jio seems to like to use its AGM to announce major launches, as was the case this time. One advantage of doing do is the presence of a baying audience so excited and sycophantic it makes Apple launches look austere. Although, to be fair, the attendees at the Jio AGM were presumably employees rather than supposedly objective journalists.

The launch and AGM in general was also a bit of an Ambani-fest, with Reliance owner Mukesh Ambani inviting his son and daughter on stage to unveil the phone. Conspicuously missing, of course, was his brother Anil, owner of rival operator group Reliance Communications, which is suffering at the hands of Jio’s aggressive pricing strategy.

Deposit notwithstanding this does look like another potentially very disruptive move by Jio, which is likely to be causing its competitors further sleepless nights. Ambani’s deep pockets continue to enable Jio to play the long game with a focus on growth in the short term and worrying about revenue later.

Here’s the full AGM for those of you who are into that sort of thing. Even if you’re not it’s worth dipping in to get a sense of how stoked the audience was. For some reason the whole event doesn’t kick off until the 1:04 mark of the video and the big JioPhone unveil starts at the 1:30 mark.

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