Reliance Jio unveils aggressive Indian 5G rollout plans

Dominant Indian telco Reliance Jio plans to spend $25 billion on a nationwide 5G rollout that will conclude by the end of 2023.

This was just one of a bunch of announcements made during its parent company’s AGM broadcast, at which telecoms was the main focus. As soon as it acquired the majority of the Indian 5G spectrum on offer a month ago, Jio unveiled plans to build ‘the world’s most advanced 5G network’. The accuracy of that claim remains to be seen but the combination of a greenfield network and seemingly limitless funds make Jio difficult to bet against.

“To build our pan-India true 5G network, we have committed a total investment of 2 lakh crore [~$25 billion], said Reliance Chairman Mukesh Ambani. “Jio has prepared an ambitious 5G roll-out plan which will be the fastest in the world. Within the next two months, by Diwali, we will launch Jio 5G across multiple key cities, including the metropolises of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai.

“Subsequently, we plan to increase the Jio 5G footprint month after month. By December 2023, which is less than 18 months from today, we will deliver Jio 5G to every town, every taluka, and every tehsil [administrative districts] of our country. We will use our combined wireless and wireline assets to cover 3.3 million square kilometres, India’s total land mass, with fibre-quality broadband, connecting even those parts of the country where satellite technology was the only option.”

That last bit is a reference to fixed wireless access, which Jio reckons is the answer to India’s low levels of broadband penetration. Accordingly, the company decided to launch a new product called JioAirFiber, an FWA wifi hotspot that Jio infers will be as good as a proper fixed line connection.

The rest of the 5G stuff was mainly the usual vague hyperbole about how great 5G is, with the inevitable corporate guff about it making the world better place and that sort of thing. There was also the unveiling of JioMart – a mobile commerce service done over WhatApp – in partnership with the artist formerly known as Facebook, which seems innovative and may even set a precedent for other countries.

Ambani started his presentation by stressing how Jio dominates the Indian telecoms sector, suggesting he feels he has little to fear from regulators, competition authorities, etc. Its 4G network already has 421 million subscribers and Jio seems likely to be even more dominant in 5G, especially when you consider the cross-selling potential of the things announced above. Eventually India will either have to admit its telecoms sector is becoming a monopoly or try to do something to prevent that.


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