How the Fastest Telecom to Hit 100 Million Users Plans to Keep Growing

March 1, 2017, 12:29 AM UTC
A Reliance employee demonstrates Jio LYF phone at their headquarters on the outskirts of Mumbai
A Reliance employee demonstrates Jio LYF phone at their headquarters on the outskirts of Mumbai, India, June 1, 2016. Picture taken June 1, 2016. REUTERS/Clara Ferreira Marques - RTX2NPO0
© Reuters Staff / Reuters REUTERS

India’s hottest mobile phone operator, Jio, added 100 million subscribers in its first 170 days of availability by giving away free wireless service.

The freebies end in April, but Jio executives say they don’t think the fast growth will stop.

“Our target is to get 400 million subscribers ASAP,” president Mathew Oommen said on Tuesday, speaking to reporters at the Mobile World Congress industry gathering in Barcelona. The carrier is also aiming next to sign up large business customers. “In the next few months, you will see us take the perfect storm to the enterprise as well,” he said.

Many competitors and other telecom carriers worldwide question how Jio can ever become profitable. The company, which doesn’t report separate financial results, has big backing from energy company Reliance Industries and its billionaire chairman Mukesh Ambani, said to be the wealthiest person in India.

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But Oommen says profitability is clearly in sight despite the current lack of subscriber revenue and plan for only limited charges in the future. “We will ensure that we are profitable again in the shortest time,” Oommen said without providing any specifics. “It is not just about getting the subscriber base.”

Oommen and other executives have said that one piece of Jio’s revenue will be generated by gathering and exploiting vast amounts of information about its subscribers, which could be sold to marketers or used to sell advertising. Ambani has said data is the oil.

Jio’s mobile network is based almost entirely on the techniques that have been used to create the Internet, forgoing typical telecommunications switching gear. Cisco Systems (CSCO) helped build the network, which includes 150,000 routers.

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In disclosing the 100 million subscriber milestone last week, Ambani said all customers who sign up for free before the start of April will be eligible for the pay service starting at 303 rupees, or about $4.50, per month. Such an account allows subscribers to use 1 GB of data daily, or about half of the typical monthly data allowance that other Indian carriers offer at that price.

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