After months of delays, Reliance Industries head Mukesh Ambani launched Jio, the first LTE-only network in the country. The network has been active for several months, albeit in a pre-launch mode with SIM cards doled out to select customers. With today's announcement, the network is now open to all in India, with registrations kicking off from September 5.
There's a lot to talk about, but the main highlight with Jio is its disruptive pricing, with the carrier offering the lowest LTE data rates in the world. In a first for the Indian market, Jio is offering free unlimited voice calls for its entire userbase across India, even those on roaming.
Reliance Industries poured a staggering $20 billion into setting up Jio's infrastructure and acquiring spectrum license for its 4G services, and we're finally starting to see the results of that investment. Let's break the salient points down:
Free voice calls for everyone
Free voice calls will be a game-changer for Jio. Ambani announced that all Jio customers would get unlimited domestic voice calls, including calls to other networks. So, if you're calling a friend who's on Airtel from your Jio number, you won't incur any charges. Jio is also abolishing roaming charges, which means that you no longer have to worry about additional tariff when moving states. You also don't have to worry about blackout days (festivals, holidays, and such) if you're on Jio, as the carrier isn't going to charge anything extra on these days.
Essentially, if you're a Jio subscriber, all voice calls are free.
Affordable LTE is finally here
The main draw with Jio is its LTE pricing. By providing 1GB of 4G data for as low as ₹50 ($0.75), Jio will revolutionize the telecom industry in the country and make high-speed internet accessible to everyone. The network will offer all-inclusive tariffs, which includes voice, data, texts, and access to its digital content services all bundled in a single plan. Here's the tariff breakdown:
The most affordable option gives you 300MB of data for ₹149 ($2.25). You won't be able to use your data plan as a Wi-Fi hotspot, but you do get 100 texts and access to Jio's content ecosystem. The next tier will be the one that most customers will choose, as it offers 4GB of 4G data for ₹499 ($7.45). On top of that, you get unlimited 4G at night (no mention as to what Jio categorizes as nighttime, but it's usually between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. for other carriers), unlimited calls and texts, and an additional 8GB of data through JioNet, a network of public Wi-Fi hotspots. To put things into context, Airtel offers 1GB of 4G for ₹255 ($3.80).
The ₹999 ($15) plan is the one that I'll be opting for, as it gives 10GB of LTE data and 20GB of public Wi-Fi in addition to unlimited texts, calls, as well as access to Jio's content platform. Furthermore, if you're a student, you get 25% more data for free. All you need to do is show your ID during activation to be eligible.
The sweet spot for LTE plans is at ₹250, and Jio does have a plan that gives you 2GB of 4G data and unlimited LTE at night along with 4GB public Wi-Fi data tethering for ₹299 ($4.65). The caveat here is that the plan is valid for 21 days, and not 28 days as most of the other plans listed above.
Jio's launch will undoubtedly make Airtel, Vodafone, and other carriers re-evaluate their pricing strategy for LTE. Competition is a wonderful thing.
Jio digital content ecosystem
Jio has built up an extensive digital content ecosystem that includes a music and video streaming service, live streaming of TV channels, and so much more. Jio is offering a catalog of 2.8 million songs, 6000 movies, as well as thousands of TV shows and magazines. We'll take a detailed look at Jio's digital ecosystem and all the services on offer later this year, but for now, all you need to know is that the entire suite of Jio apps is available for free to all customers until December 31, 2017.
That includes free access to JioPlay, JioBeats, JioOnDemand, JioXpressNews, JioDrive, JioMags, JioSecurity, and JioMoney.
LTE devices starting at just ₹2,999
Reliance started rolling out its affordable Lyf branded devices earlier this year, and at today's announcement Ambani said that the carrier will roll out an LTE-enabled handset that will retail for just ₹2,999 ($45). During Jio's trial phase, you had to get a Lyf phone to receive a Jio SIM, but that is no longer the case. Jio is also rolling out the JioFi Wi-Fi hotspot for ₹1,999 ($30).
Free LTE and calls for everyone this year
Still not convinced? As an introductory offer, Jio is offering unlimited data and to everyone for free until the end of the year. The offer will be valid from September 5. The goal for Jio is to acquire 100 million customers as fast as possible as the carrier expands to cover 90% of India's population by March 2017.
To make the process seamless, Jio will start taking digital activations at Reliance Digital stores across the country. Activation requires an Aadhaar card.
We're short on specifics for this one, but Ambani revealed at the end of his presentation that Jio would start rolling Gigabit internet over optical fiber. He didn't reveal a timeline, only stating that the service will initially be offered in the top 100 cities in India. Given the pathetic state of broadband access in India, Jio's foray into this segment will be welcomed by many.
I have been switching carriers over the last ten years to find one that suited my data needs. I finally settled on Airtel last year after the carrier launched its 4G network. I got my hands on a Jio SIM earlier this month, and everything about the service is excellent. The carrier consistently offers faster speeds than Airtel in the same location, and the quality of service is a notch above.
Jio will start taking registrations from Monday, September 5, at Reliance Digital stores all across the country. With free data and voice calls on offer, there's absolutely no reason not to give the service a go.