Jio Goes for the 2G Jugular

JioPhone Next targets millions of 2G feature phone users

A couple of weeks ago, at Reliance Industries’ 44th annual general meeting, Reliance Industries unveiled its much-anticipated JioPhone Next, an Android-based smartphone developed in partnership with Google. With this device, Reliance reaffirmed its ambition of bringing affordable Internet connectivity to more people in India.

Reliance Jio, the telecom arm of Reliance Industries, disrupted the telecom landscape of India when it introduced its LTE services in 2016. Leapfrogging 2G and 3G networks completely and jumping right into offering very cheap 4G-based data and voice services enabled Jio to quickly become one of the world’s largest operators. Less than six years later, Jio has about 425 million subscribers. But the company is eager to go well beyond the half-billion user mark. If it manages to do so, such a subscriber count would establish Reliance Jio as the world’s second-largest mobile operator behind only China Mobile, which has about 940 million subscriptions.

With the JioPhone Next, Jio is looking to attract the almost 300 million users of 2G feature phones currently with Indian operators Vodafone (Vi) and Bharti Airtel. Vi has more than 150 million 2G users and Airtel around 130 million.

JioPhone Next, which Jio is calling the most affordable 4G handset in India without providing actual pricing, is its third house-branded phone. The company previously launched two feature phones, the JioPhone and the JioPhone 2. But this time it’s different: the new device is a smartphone running an optimized-version of Android and includes features such as a smart camera with augmented reality filters, a voice assistant, language translation and automatic text-to-speech.

As India has several spoken languages, JioPhone Next will support several localization features that will allow users to read content in their language of choice with a tap of a button. Read Aloud and Translate Now are seamlessly integrated into the operating system, allowing these features to work with any text on the phone screen, including web sites, apps, messages and even photos.

In July 2020, Google invested $4.5 billion in Jio Platforms, taking a 7.73% stake in the company (see Jio and Google Pair Up for Smartphone Push). This was the first investment from Google under its India Digitization Fund, through which it plans to invest $10 billion over the next five to seven years to accelerate India’s digital economy.

Currently brands like Xiaomi, Realme, Lava and Micromax dominate this price bracket and can expect a significant impact from this new “made in India” competition. The Indian government launched a digital initiative and Indian players such as Lava and Micromax were hoping to make a comeback by targeting buyers of low-end phones. However, with the announcement by Jio, these Indian brands might have to re-evaluate their plans.

The Jio phone wasn’t the only announcement at Reliance Industries’ annual general meeting in Mumbai. The company also announced a cloud partnership with Google in a further sign of close collaboration, through it will migrate its core retail businesses including Reliance Retail, JioMart, JioSaavn and others to Google’s cloud infrastructure.

The two companies will also deliver a portfolio of 5G edge computing solutions, as Jio works on launching its 5G network and rolls out new services for many sectors including gaming, healthcare, education and entertainment. These will be powered by Jio’s 5G network and Google Cloud innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning, data and analytics, as well as other cloud-native technologies.

The JioPhone Next will be available on 10 September 2021. The price hasn’t been revealed, but we expect it be less than 5,000 rupees (about $65), making this an attractive phone for many households in India.