October 2020 was meant to be a big month for Reliance Jio, the country’s biggest telco. Just over a year ago, Mukesh Ambani—chairman of Jio’s parent company, Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL)—had told shareholders that Jio was within touching distance of reaching 500 million subscribers. In October that year, anonymous company sources told reporters that the target was to meet this milestone in 12 months.

While Reliance has managed to grow from practically nothing to almost 400 million active subscribers in the five years since its launch in September 2016, it missed its target. 

It isn’t for a lack of ambition, though. If anything, it’s a problem of too much ambition.

In March 2017, when Jio was still in its infancy, its top executives shared a bold forecast. The Indian connectivity market, they told analysts, would touch Rs 3,00,000 crore-4,00,000 crore Rs 3,00,000 crore-4,00,000 crore Reliance Industries Limited Jio executives told analysts that Jio is well positioned to grab 50% revenue market share Read more (~$40.89-54.52 billion) in annual revenues by 2020-21, buoyed largely by increased data consumption. Jio, they said, was “well-positioned” to claim half that bounty. 

Three years later, the Indian telecom market still isn’t as large as Jio predicted. Nor has Jio managed to capture 50% of the industry’s revenue market share. Because its other ambition—becoming the largest telco in the country—saw it offer rock-bottom data pricing. This essentially slowed both its revenue growth and that of the industry at large.

Jio became the country’s largest telco, both in terms of revenue market share and subscribers, but the cost was its revenue goals. With around 35% of India’s mobile user base, the operator currently commands a revenue market share of ~42%.

Revenue leader

Jio’s first quarter revenue for the year ended March 2021 stood at Rs 18,000 crore, far ahead of rival Bharti Airtel’s Rs 15,700 crore

Reaching Ambani’s target of 500 million subscribers, however, will be an uphill battle. Already, there has been rapid consolidation. From a ten-player market when Jio launched, just three private operators remain—Bharti Airtel and Vi (formerly Vodafone Idea) being the other two. Now that the market has stabilised, further gains will not come as rapidly as they have in the past for Jio. 

Not only will Jio’s final drive to 500 million be more difficult, these users—from geographies beyond metro and urban markets—offer lower average revenue per user (ARPU). 

“It’s more about showing off numbers than anything else,” said a Mumbai-based analyst who tracks the telecom space. This will come in handy as Jio eyes a public listing abroad, he added.


Pratap Vikram Singh

Pratap is based out of Delhi and covers policy and myriad intersections with the other sectors, most notably technology. He has worked with Governance Now for seven years, reporting on technology, telecom policy, and the social sector.

View Full Profile

Available exclusively to subscribers of The Ken India

This story is a part of The Ken India edition. Subscribe. Questions?


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 200+ stories, archive of 800+ stories from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 2,750


Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 60+ new stories with 3-months worth of archives from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 1,750


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

Rs. 500


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 150+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 120


Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 35+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 50


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

$ 20



What is The Ken?

The Ken is a subscription-only business journalism website and app that provides coverage across two editions - India and Southeast Asia.

What kind of stories do you write?

We publish sharp, original and reported stories on technology, business and healthcare. Our stories are forward-looking, analytical and directional — supported by data, visualisations and infographics.

We use language and narrative that is accessible to even lay readers. And we optimise for quality over quantity, every single time.

What do I get if I subscribe?

For subscribers of the India edition, we publish a new story every weekday, a premium daily newsletter, Beyond The First Order and a weekly newsletter - The Nutgraf.

For subscribers of the Southeast Asia edition, we publish a new story three days a week and a weekly newsletter, Strait Up.

The annual subscription will get you complete, exclusive access to our archive of previously published stories for your edition, along with access to our subscriber-only mobile apps, our premium comment sections, our newsletter archives and several other gifts and benefits.

Do I need to pay separately for your premium newsletters?

Nope. Paid, premium subscribers of The Ken get our newsletters delivered for free.

Does a subscription to the India edition grant me access to Southeast Asia stories? Or vice-versa?

Afraid not. Each edition is separate with its own subscription plan. The India edition publishes stories focused on India. The Southeast Asia edition is focused on Southeast Asia. We may occasionally cross-publish stories from one edition to the other.

Do you offer an all-access joint subscription for both editions?

Not yet. If you’d like to access both editions, you’ll have to purchase two subscriptions separately - one for India and the other for Southeast Asia.

Do you offer any discounts?

No. We have a zero discounts policy.

Is there a free trial I can opt for?

We don’t offer any trials, but you can sign up for a free account which will give you access to the weekly free story, our archive of free stories and summaries of the paid stories. You can stay on the free account as long as you’d like.

Do you offer refunds?

We allow you to sample our journalism for free before signing up, and after you do, we stand by its quality. But we do not offer refunds.

I am facing some trouble purchasing a subscription. What can I do?

Please write to us at [email protected] detailing the error or queries.