September 21, 2023
India’s Reliance Jio has finally launched its hotly-anticipated fixed-wireless access (FWA) service, giving its rivals one more thing to worry about.
JioAirFiber offers unlimited data, and is pitched to customers who want to experience high-speed fixed broadband but don’t live within reach of a fixed network.
Prices start at INR599 (£3.91) per month for the entry-level 30 Mbps service. That is marginally more expensive than Jio’s cheapest fixed fibre tariff, which comes in at INR399 and offers the same speed. It suggests that like many operators, Jio is wary about potentially cannibalising its fixed subscriber base.
By comparison, rival Bharti Airtel’s FWA service starts at INR4,435 for six months, which works out at INR739 per month, for 100 Mbps. However, while Airtel’s FWA service is available in select parts of Delhi and Mumbai, Jio AirFiber has gone live in eight cities: Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai and Pune.
Network access is only the start – AirFiber is aimed at encouraging users to consume content. All customers get a Jio set-top box (STB) at no extra cost, providing access to more than 550 TV channels. More expensive tariffs come with access to various apps, including streaming services.
Pricier packages also unlock higher speeds. In select areas where Jio has sufficient network capacity, customers can sign up to JioAirFiber Max, which tops out at 1 Gbps. At more than ten times the price of the entry-level tariff, this is one for the few not the many.
“Our extensive fibre-to-the-home service JioFiber, already serves over 10 million customers, with hundreds of thousands more getting connected each month. But there are still millions of homes and small businesses to be connected at a rapid pace,” said a statement from Akash Ambani, chairman of Reliance Jio Infocomm.
“With JioAirFiber, we are expanding our addressable market to rapidly cover every home in our country with similar quality of service. JioAirFiber will enable millions of homes with world-class digital entertainment, smart home services and broadband, through its solutions across education, health, surveillance and smart home,” he said.
Jio has a stated aim of reaching 100 million FWA customers. Given its meteoric rise to the summit of India’s mobile market, ambitious targets like this one are not beyond the realms of possibility.
Backed by Mukesh Ambani – one of the richest people on Earth – Jio can afford to prioritise disrupting a market over short-term profitability.
The launch of its 4G network in 2016 was accompanied by free voice calls and the cheapest data rates in the country. Anticipation of the launch was already at fever pitch thanks to a trial period that offered eligible customers free, unlimited mobile data.
Jio’s flamboyant arrival to the market sparked a brutal price war. When the dust settled, Jio had surmounted Bharti Airtel to become India’s biggest operator; Telenor had left the country, selling its Uninor operation to Airtel; and Vodafone and Idea had merged – and have been struggling financially ever since.
Probably the most satisfying scalp for Ambani was Reliance Communications (RCom). Headed by Mukesh’s brother Anil – with whom he has been feuding on-and-off ever since the death of their father Dhirubhai – RCom was once vying with Airtel and Vodafone to be the country’s biggest player. The price war ended those hopes, and RCom filed for bankruptcy in 2019.
With this kind of track record, every time Jio launches a new service, there must be a few execs at competing operators who ask “what fresh Hell is this?”
If AirFiber proves as popular as Jio’s other services, these rivals will know soon enough.
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