Google invests in India’s red-hot Jio Platforms to build cheap cellphones

July 15, 2020, 9:55 AM UTC

On Wednesday, Chairman of Reliance Industries Limited Mukesh Ambani announced that Google will invest $4.5 billion to take a 7.7% stake in Jio Platforms, the telecoms and digital arm of Ambani’s vast Reliance conglomerate.

“This is not just a financial but a strategic investment by the Internet giant,” Ambani said Wednesday at his company’s annual general meeting. Ambani went on to tout Jio’s recent investment streak that began with a landmark $6 billion deal with Facebook in late April.

“[Jio Platforms] has now four strategic partners—Facebook, Intel, Qualcomm and Google. It has also six most admired technology and financial investors and three sovereign funds, taking the total tally of investors to 14,” he said. In total, Jio Platforms has raised nearly $20 billion since the company’s initial deal with Facebook, according to Ambani.

For Google, the announcement marks a rapid follow-up to the company’s Monday announcement that it would invest $10 billion in India over the next five to seven years. “This is a reflection of our confidence in the future of India and its digital economy,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said of the pledge in a video call with employees on Monday.

The deal will give Google a foothold in India’s booming digital market, a space that has become a battleground in recent years between American giants like Walmart, Amazon, and Facebook.

Jio Platforms’ core business is a telecoms network that has seen its customer base balloon to over 370 million subscribers since its launch in 2016. The company is heralded for bringing tens of millions of Indians online for the first time by providing cheap access to data. Jio Platforms says that the recent spate of investments means that the company is now debt free, and the investments will help grow the company’s ventures in e-commerce, digital currencies, and other digital initiatives.

“This is a marriage of equals and hence of massive possibilities,” says Sanchit Vir Gogia, CEO of digital advisory firm Greyhound Research, who explained that the two companies can collaborate on devices, search, apps, and e-commerce. Jio’s partnership with Google, in addition to working with companies like Facebook, may put the firms in position to “collectively dominate [India’s] digital market,” he said.

After Ambani announced the deal on Wednesday, Google posted on its blog that as part of the deal Jio and Google will jointly develop an affordable smart phone for the Indian market.

“Together we are excited to rethink, from the ground up, how millions of users in India can become owners of smartphones,” Google said in the post. “This effort will unlock new opportunities, further power the vibrant ecosystem of applications and push innovation to drive growth for the new Indian economy.”

This was updated to reflect analyst comments and Google’s blog post on the deal.