Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries launches ‘free’ 4G JioPhone

Putting speculations to rest, Mukesh Ambani on Friday announced the launch of Jio Phone, a 4G feature phone that offers free calls along with data packs at staggeringly low prices. Unlimited data packs for JioPhones will start at Rs 153 per month, there are also weekly and 2-day packs.

Ambani, who had taken the telecom sector by surprise with free voice calls and data last year, announced the next leap at the company’s 40th shareholder meeting on Friday.

The phone, targeted at 50 crore feature phone users in the country, will be available for pre-booking from August 24 on payment of a security deposit of Rs 1,500.

This deposit will be refunded after 36 months on return of the phone, he said, adding that the price of the phone will be “effective zero”.

He used the occasion to introduce his twin children, Akash and Isha, who presented the phone features that include calls and text messaging on voice command, Internet surfing and cable to connect the device to TV to view content, including videos.

“JioPhone will make the 2G feature phone obsolete,” Ambani claimed, adding that the company is looking to bring 5 million phones to the market a week.

“Reliance democratised the equity culture in the past. Now, Jio will democratise the digital culture in India,” he asserted. “Digital Life will no longer be the privilege of the affluent few.”

Jio, he said, already has 125 million users since its launch in September last year. In just six months of launch, data consumption in India has gone up six-fold to 1.2 billion GB per month, making India the largest mobile data consumer in the world, Ambani claimed.

Shares of rivals Bharti Airtel Ltd and Idea Cellular Ltd plunged. At 12.15pm, Bharti Airtel Ltd fell 3.4% to Rs405.50 while India Cellular Ltd fell 5.3% to Rs89.80.

This is “protection from extortionist data charges”, Ambani said. He said Jio’s 4G data coverage will exceed the country’s 2G network in the next 12 months, covering 99% of India’s population.

RIL has a 99.44%stake in Jio. It has invested Rs1.79 trillion in Jio so far and has forecast the investment to increase to Rs2.5 trillion by fiscal 2020. On Thursday, the Jio board approved raising another Rs 20,000 crore through a rights issue.

Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) was trading at Rs1,557.25 on the BSE, up 1.9% from previous close, while India’s benchmark Sensex Index rose 0.16% to 31955.32 points.