Disruptive Indian telco Reliance Jio has found worldwide headline fame since throwing a spanner into the works of an Indian mobile market which was frankly growing stagnant. After multiple setbacks, Reliance Jio eventually rolled out its 4G network in September last year – and this week it has expanded its collaboration with Cisco for an all-IP multi-terabit network across India, claiming to be the world’s first of its type.
Cisco is supplying its Open Network Architecture and Cloud Scale Networking products, which includes MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching), a data carrying technique in networks which allows the building of temporary tunnels across an IP networks to improve quality of service (QoS) layers. QoS is a major issue for the Indian mobile network operators (MNOs).
Cisco says its services also cover data centers, WiFi, security and contact center solutions. These network technologies, combined with Reliance Jio’s in-house developments on its all-IP digital platform, will support the delivery of mobile video, as well as VoLTE, media and cloud services, digital commerce, and digital payment.
India is one of a handful of global markets where there are very few broadband lines or WiFi, and a lot of video is delivered directly to phones. This has been a huge success with millions of customers coming on board, although Reliance has just made a decision to make this paid for, and that may slow its usage.
Cisco’s own forecast says mobile data traffic to grow 7-fold from 2016 to 2021 with a lot of that being video, while IHS projects that India and China will be the biggest capex investors in telecoms networks this year.
Six months on, Reliance Jio now claims to have passed the 100 million subscribers milestone for its 4G-only network, a target it aimed to hit by the end of last year but just missed out on; ending 2016 with 72 million sign ups.
This network took far longer to build than initially expected, and the interruptions temporarily gifted other players some breathing space to catch up – forging LTE roaming deals of their own.
At an average customer acquisition rate, just shy of 17 million a month, it’s no wonder Reliance Jio’s rivals have been scrambling. Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular complained to the TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) with claims of rule breaking and predatory pricing from the new kid on the block – allegations which were recently rejected.
Equipment vendors like Cisco are benefiting from aggressive network build outs in India, as China has slowed investment and operators in Europe and the US are approaching the end of their 4G deployments. Although Indian MNOs have obscene numbers of customers, their tiny ARPUs mean these contracts are not nearly as valuable as their Western equivalents.
Service providers are aiming for a genuinely converged, flat, all-IP and programmable network that will take away the layers in mobile networks, reducing costs and time to market.
Reliance Jio recently pledged to double capacity of its 4G network to reach 99% of the Indian population, with the country’s rural regions poised as key growth areas, and it also has 300,000 km of fiber nationwide and currently has a broadband offering at $0.16 per GB.
The initial launch saw Reliance Jio enticing new customers with free bundled subscriptions to its suite of apps, including Jio Play, Jio Chat, Jio News and Jio Moneyetc (e-payment) – apps that can only exclusively be accessed over Jio’s own 4G network. Jio Play offers 300 live TV channels and a selection of on-demand movies and music.
We have covered the consolidation in the Indian market in detail, and it’s worth noting that Reliance Jio, as the country’s new comer, could fall victim to acquisition by one of the established giants. Vodafone has denied interest and has since bid for Idea Cellular, while market leader Bharti Airtel and Reliance Communications could still have their hats in the ring.
Cisco also used this week’s Mobile World Congress trade show to announce a managed services agreement with Saudi Telecom.
Reliance Jio’s President, Mathew Oommen, said: “At Jio we have been able to impact how people leverage technology in their everyday lives by delivering inclusive and affordable broadband across India. As part of our journey in fulfilling the aspirations of the nation to be a key transformational agent in Digital Adoption and Leadership, Cisco has been a great partner in building this highly scalable cloud centric all-IP Digital Services Network Platform meeting unprecedented data growth.”