Author(s): Peter Bryer
Reliance Jio, a subsidiary of the India-based conglomerate Reliance Industries, is in the process of launching an LTE network in country. After several years of delays, it expects a service launch this December in a number of cities, with a wider commercial roll-out during 2016 and 2017.
At a company event last week, Reliance Jio announced that it will begin sales of own-branded LTE smartphones at very competitive price points. The operator says it will market customized devices under the Lyf name, with retail prices starting at less than 4,000 rupees (about $62). Sales of the handsets are expected to begin in early November through Reliance Retail outlets and other popular channels in India.
The announcement comes as sales of LTE smartphones in India are beginning to reach mass despite a general lack of relevant network coverage. LTE smartphones from Apple, Lenovo, Samsung and Xiaomi have seen strong sales in recent quarters, but the motive driving the demand is more about brand value and marketing prowess.
Product specifications weren't made available, meaning detailed feature comparisons are so far impossible. However, Reliance Jio's $62 device would displace ZTE's $77 Blade Qlux 4G as the least-expensive LTE smartphone available in India. The sub-$80 price point isn't unprecedented for an LTE device — EE in the UK has a $77 own-branded LTE phone, for example — but it shows Reliance Jio's ambitions to gain subscribers for its untested service.
Reliance Jio is positioning itself as a disruptive mobile operator in the region. It's backed by a large, well-financed conglomerate, and the company's strategy includes disrupting the market for services and devices.
Mobile operators have historically had a mixed track record of success with own-branded devices. Consumers appear to have been placing more value on handset hardware brands in recent years, and top names like Nokia and Samsung continue to enjoy strong goodwill in the Indian market. However, new brands have been able to establish themselves relatively quickly. At the beginning of 2014, for example, Xiaomi sold no devices, but then quickly became the country's leading supplier of LTE phones.
The Lyf brand is new, but, at a minimum, could become a reference point for other handset manufacturers and for LTE service providers like Airtel. Reliance Jio is working with several smartphone makers to design devices optimised for its LTE network and has made significant investments in its infrastructure, but its vision of India-wide coverage will take time. However, starting next month, Reliance Jio will be planting its flag for consumers and the industry to see.