Reliance Jio may cut rates further to boost customer base

KOLKATA/MUMBAI: Reliance Jio Infocomm’s official launch of services saw crowds thronging retail outlets for 4G SIM cards across India on Monday, with some being frustrated by stocks running out and activation issues.
Experts said the telecom unit of Reliance Industries may look to slash or even extend its free offer on data after January 1, 2017, to boost customer volumes.

That will cause more financial pain to rivals Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular by making it tougher for them to retain highrevenue data customers. Jio’s future 4G pricing strategy, they said, would hinge on the pace of customer acquisitions during its launch offer of free voice and data services from September 5 to December 31.
An extension of the welcome offer is not being ruled out in Jio’s bid to grab 100 million customers in the shortest span. Reliance chairman Mukesh Ambani said last week that voice would be free for life on Jio. In the immediate term, Jio will also launch special packages for high-end customers and enterprises. A person aware of the development said “it will offer home care solutions such as switching on and off devices digitally, car solutions for tracking their movements, and premium content such as exclusive movies and shows.”

The 4G entrant’s appetite to sustain its disruptive pricing model, according to experts, stems from the fact that Jio is bankrolled by parent Reliance Industries, which is sitting on a cash pile of nearly Rs 91,000 crore. “Its free voice calls and dirtcheap data tariffs offer might not seem sustainable in the long run, but one mustn’t forget that Jio derives its strength from RIL’s balance sheet, and can easily treat its pricing model as a business development cost to poach quality customers from incumbents over a period of time,” said an analyst at a leading foreign brokerage.

Ex-Airtel CEO Sanjay Kapoor said Jio’s future tariff strategy “is contingent on how many quality customers it acquires by January 1” and how soon it’s able to sort out traffic imbalances and reduce potential interconnect payouts to incumbents.

Jio’s much-awaited launch attracted huge crowds on Monday outside Reliance Digital and Xpress mini outlets nationwide, with thousands queuing up for free 4G SIMs from early morning.
“The biggest draw of Jio’s 4G SIM is free mobile internet till December 31,” said a Jio customer in Kolkata. But SIM cards ran out at many locations and technical glitches hindered activations. Some stores even issued tokens to angry customers, promising delivery as late as October 15.
Jio declined to reveal details of its pan-India 4G SIM sales on Day 1as of press time. In Chennai, faster activations through the Aadhaar-based digital verification process than the manual route prompted customers to rush home and fetch their cards.