Reliance Jio is inching closer to the launch of 4G services in India. Having procured a pan-India license for important 2300MHz spectrum, it is now said to be in discussions with Chinese device makers about the rollout of services.
Local media reports suggest the operator is in talks with a number of device vendors, including Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , Gionee and Xiaomi. All indications are that RJio will either bundle services with devices or offer devices at a discount, making it easier to attract subscribers.
“RJio will launch in a few circles before August this year but the big bang launch is going to be in December 2015, coinciding with the birthday of the company’s founder, Dhirubhai Ambani,” says a well-placed industry source.
RJio has previously flagged plans to launch services in around 5,000 towns and cities across all states this year, accounting for nearly 90% of urban India and more than 215,000 villages. But the operator could potentially lose its spectrum licenses if it fails to launch services by August 31. Rules dictate that spectrum holders must launch services within five years of receiving licenses, and RJio secured its 2300MHz concession back in 2010.
Nevertheless, various other developments suggest a major service launch will happen soon. For one thing, RJio recently said it had signed an enabling loan of $750 million to fund electronic purchases from Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) and Ace Technologies Corp.
It has also recently hired a slew of senior-level managers. Pradeep Shrivastava, the chief marketing officer of Idea Cellular Ltd. , has joined RJio as marketing head, while Anand Narang, the marketing director of Huawei Devices, has been lined up to take charge of devices marketing. Shamik Das, Reliance Communications Ltd. ‘s former president and chief operating officer, is another recent appointment, having joined RJio as chief corporate development officer.
Moreover, RJio has already spent $13 billion in the last five years building a network. The company has access to a network of around 60,000 towers in India and owns about one half of these towers. The others come courtesy of infrastructure-sharing deals RJio has signed with Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) , Indus Towers Ltd. , GTL Infrastructure Ltd. , Viom Networks , Reliance Communications Ltd. and Bharti Infratel over the last five years. RJio is also in the process of testing small cells on its network.
Still unclear, however, are details of the spectrum RJio will use to launch 4G services. In addition to its pan-India 2300MHz license, RJio controls 1800MHz airwaves in 14 circles (service areas), having secured rights in 2014. More recently, it has picked up both 800MHz and additional 1800MHz spectrum covering 13 circles. As a result, the operator now has 800MHz or 1800MHz frequencies covering most of India’s circles, giving it a number of frequency options when it comes to 4G.
While RJio works on getting services up and running, arch-rival Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL) is trying to establish as big a lead as possible. Last week, the company, which operates India’s biggest mobile phone network, began offering 4G services to its clients in Mumbai on trial basis, having previously launched a trial of FDD LTE technology in Chennai using 1800MHz spectrum.
Bharti Airtel has already rolled out TDD LTE services in 20 Indian cities — including Pune, Bengaluru, Chandigarh and Kolkata — and is pricing 4G services at the same level as 3G to attract customers. Service launches in Delhi and Gurgaon appear imminent.