The annual general meeting (AGM) of Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), India’s most valuable company, is always a spectacle, chock-full of big banner announcements. This year’s iteration, held on 15 July, had plenty of them, including the reveal of a $4.5 billion investment from Google in its subsidiary, Jio Platforms. But the medium of the meeting was as significant as the content. It took place online, with shareholders logging in through JioMeet, a video conferencing app built by the company’s telecom arm, Jio.

A rival to video conferencing leader Zoom, JioMeet is the latest app forged in the RIL fires. The company boasts over 20 apps spanning virtually every sector of the digital economy—from fintech to edtech, retail to video streaming. 

And even as it built its digital ecosystem, it also populated it with 100 million captive users. It did this by offering the Jio Phone—a 4G-capable feature phone pre-loaded with these apps—practically for free. All users had to do was pay a Rs 1,500 ($20) refundable deposit and they were part of the Jio Phone army. These bolstered the ranks of Jio’s 387 million users.

Now, Jio is set to go one better. Google’s investment in Jio Platforms will culminate in the creation creation Mint The new Jio-Google smartphone is set to pose a major challenge to Chinese phone makers such as Xiaomi and BBK Electronics, owner of the Realme, Oppo and Vivo brands, which currently dominate a $2 billion market for sub-$100 smartphones in India Read more  of a budget 4G or even a 5G smartphone. This could see a wave of its feature phone users upgrading, while also opening the company, and by extension its app ecosystem, to a whole new wave of data-hungry users. At the July AGM, Mukesh Ambani, RIL chairman and Asia’s richest man, said that JioMeet had already racked up five million users since its launch on 2 July.

“The idea has always been to provide additional services through its own pipe (Jio) and make money,” says Kamaljeet Rastogi, chief executive and co-founder of fintech startup Netpaisa. Rastogi was the vice president of strategy and special products at Jio Money between 2011 and 2014. 

The idea of Jio’s hundreds of millions of telecom customers using its apps, riding on the back of data from its telecom service, has drawn investors in droves. Jio Platforms, which houses a number of these apps, as well as the telco business, counts Facebook, Google, and Microsoft as backers, along with nearly a dozen private equity funds. Parallels could be drawn with Reliance’s past when Ambani’s father, Dhirubhai Ambani, integrated vertically from making polyester clothes to owning the refineries that made polyester.’

While the likes of edtech platform JioEducation, gaming app JioGames, and JioMeet will be monetised in the long run, Jio Platforms is counting on three core segments, according to a report by brokerage firm Bernstein.

AUTHOR

Pranav Balakrishnan

Pranav writes about the business of moving people and things around, i.e, mobility and e-commerce. Over the past two years, he has written about Ola, Tesla, Flipkart, Amazon, and the increasing role played by Reliance Industries in the Indian technology story. Pranav joined The Ken from Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, specialising in business journalism.

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