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10 April 2019

Reliance Jio buys conversational AI vendor to bulk up smart home service

India’s disruptive MNO, Reliance Jio, has acquired 87% of conversational AI platform Haptik Infotech for $102.3m, sparking speculation that it intends to fend off Amazon and Google with a more localized service in the high-stakes voice market.

Haptik claims vast reach, boasting 10m+ devices, but it is unclear how much more it offers than a high profile chatbot. It may need to look for something more innovative to be realistic about building a smart home offering that would keep Amazon and Google from gaining ground.

That said, RJio has been investing hard and fast into fiber network infrastructure to support its connected home ambitions. Last year it acquired two cable operators, Hathway and Den Network, which are active in the direct-to-home (DTH) TV market, threatening the DTH sector with the same disruption it has unleashed in mobile.

Jio GigaFiber is an ambitious project in a market like India where fixed infrastructure is limited and expensive, in sharp contrast to the mobile market (there are about 85m cable TV homes compared to approximately 400m smartphone users and 750m total mobile subscribers). Midway through last year, RJio showcased its fledgling smart home portfolio, comprising a home router and Internet-connected set-top which we understand is built by a combination of Kaon Media and Samindo Electronics, alongside a voice-activated remote control. It was also demonstrating a line-up of connected lights and a range of sensors.

That means RJio already has its own voice capabilities, although expanding this beyond the TV ecosystem to power a comprehensive smart home experience seems to be the next frontier. Of course, Amazon Echo and Google Home compatibility are part and parcel of RJio’s smart home plans, although the operator has showcased its own prototype smart speaker.

First impressions are that Haptik’s chatbot platform looks more accustomed to dealing with an irate customer or placing a calendar marker than making impromptu intelligent decisions based on vast amounts of data sets made up of deep individual user metrics. It focuses more on customer engagement at the smartphone level, processing customer support requests and operating a live chat system – claiming to have processed over 1bn interactions.

RJio’s director Akash Ambani said: “We believe voice interactivity will be the primary mode of interaction for Digital India. We are delighted to announce this partnership and look forward to working with the experienced team of Haptik in realizing this vision for offering greater connectivity and rich communication experiences to the billion+ Indian consumers.”