Like an ocean current, India’s largest telecom operator Reliance Jio is always in motion. Even when all seems still on the surface, it surges forward endlessly. All those caught in its path are carried kicking and screaming into deeper, unchartered waters, or drowned and relegated to the company of India’s other telco shipwrecks.
In just five short years, Jio surged from birth to utter dominance. Today, it boasts around 392 million users—around 70 million more than its nearest competitors, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone-Idea. The young telco also claims to have a complete 5G solution in the works. With its parent company, Jio Platforms, mopping up over $20 billion in funding, it’s also the only Indian telco in a position to spend big when the Indian government finally holds 5G spectrum auctions. This is expected to happen in 2021.
But even as Jio sharpens its knives in anticipation of the 5G prize on the horizon, it still has unfinished business in the present. Or rather, there’s a relic of the past that Jio wants finished—2G.
Many announcements were made at the annual general meeting (AGM) of Jio Platforms’ parent company Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) in July. A new partnership with Google, along with $4.5 billion in funding from the American internet giant, for instance. Along with this, RIL chairperson and managing director Mukesh Ambani also announced an ambitious three-year target—achieve a subscriber base of over 500 million, account for a billion smart sensors, and be present in more than 50 million homes and businesses.
There’s one major hurdle to that. At present, as per an August consultation paper consultation paper TRAI The paper seeks responses on ways to enhance broadband connectivity and speed Read more from telecom regulator Trai, some 300 million of India’s active mobile subscriber base of 961 million are still using 2G technology. For all its dominance, Jio, which boasts a network that is entirely 4G, is completely locked out of this. Its older rivals, meanwhile, still count on their 2G networks for a significant portion of their business.
Even its sensor ambitions are held back by the existence of 2G, with many sensors and devices—including Point-of-Sale (POS) machines— integrated with 2G SIM cards. Ambani estimates that this opportunity could be worth up to Rs 20,000 crore ($2.7 billion) annually for Jio in a few years.
It’s no wonder, then, that Reliance Jio, which follows the ‘greed is good’ ethos when it comes to conquering markets, wants a “2G-mukt (free)” India. Ambani said as much during the AGM. He followed up on this two weeks later. “I think necessary policy steps should be taken with utmost urgency to make 2G a part of history,” Ambani said at a virtual event organised by Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) on 31 July.