A curious phenomenon is playing out in the slums of India’s Maximum City, Mumbai. Telecom giant Jio is sending small battalions of salespeople to low-income areas—places like Kamraj Nagar and Ramabhai Ambedkar Nagar in Ghatkopar East—to onboard waves of the Mumbai’s poorer residents onto Jio’s telecom platform. The target demographic, a customer care executive told The Ken, is customers with little to spend—those who buy recharge packs as low as Rs 50.

Since its launch, Mukesh Ambani-owned Jio has gone all out to grow quickly. Indeed, on the back of its affordable data packs, the company has seen its subscriber base surge to over 228 million as of July-end, according to data from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai). The company’s renewed focus on India’s poorest is an extension of this insatiable appetite for fast growth. “Whenever we need the numbers, we go to slums and conduct camps,” the Jio customer care executive affirms.

The camps he alludes to are sales drives where executives set up small kiosks. On offer at these kiosks is everything one needs to tap into Jio’s eternal wellspring of affordable mobile data. Jio SIMs as well as Jio’s low-cost feature phone, the JioPhone. The JioPhone, priced at Rs 1,500 ($20.28), is designed for 4G networks and supports a host of Jio applications for music, videos, television, and news, for free.

For low-income customers, the JioPhone offers one of the most painless pathways to the 4G data highway. Little wonder then that a Jio customer care executive in Goregaon, Mumbai, says that the focus on low-income areas is paying off. Sales of the JioPhone have been brisk at the camps.

To further lower the entry barrier, the customer care executive lets on that about 75-80% of JioPhone sales in slums are done through an exchange programme. Through these, older 2G feature phones are exchanged to lower the cost closer to the Rs 1,000 ($14.91) mark. Even if someone doesn’t possess the required documents for a phone or a SIM, Jio’s sales executives get a proxy who has already finished the Know Your Customer (KYC) process to buy it for them, the second executive reveals.

Clearly, the ends justify the means for Jio. And in this case, according to sources, the target is to hit 400 million subscribers within the next two years. Feature phones and low average revenue per user (ARPU) customers, Jio is betting, will be key to this.

And its bet seems to be paying off.

Brokerage firm CLSA estimates that Airtel will lose 5 million customers in the September 2018 quarter.


Shashidhar KJ

Shashidhar has been a journalist for over six years and has worked with The Times of India, The Financial Express and MediaNama, his last assignment. He is a fine bloke, and by that, I mean unusually quiet. Over the years, Shashidhar has written on several subjects. Banking, startups and technology, media, and also financial technology. He started his career on the desk at the old lady of Boribunder. At The Ken, Shashidhar works out of Mumbai and writes on telecom and financial technology. What he really wants to talk about though is his vinyl collection.

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