NEW DELHI ⸺ Google deepened its partnership with Reliance Jio on Thursday with an “ultra-affordable” smartphone that could connect hundreds of millions of customers to high-speed mobile data and a cloud tie-up to boost the Indian telecoms firm’s 5G push.
The ‘JioPhone Next’ has been developed by Alphabet’s Google and Jio for the Indian market, Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries of which Jio is a part, told his company’s annual shareholder meeting.
Ambani, one of the world’s richest men, wants to expand Jio’s tech, telecoms and entertainment services through the new phone’s launch in September.
India is the world’s second-biggest mobile market with about 530 million smartphone users, but more than 300 million people still use legacy feature phones, Hong Kong-based tech consultancy Counterpoint Research says.
“This (the smartphone) is a testimony to a global technology giant and a national technology champion working together to make truly a breakthrough product that can be first introduced in India and then taken to the rest of the world,” Ambani said.
He did not specify a price but promised it will be the most affordable smartphone “not just in India, but globally”.
Ambani announced last year that Jio and Google would partner to make an Android-based smartphone operating system.
Google, which last year invested $4.5 billion in Jio’s parent Jio Platforms, also said it would help India’s biggest wireless carrier with tech solutions for its enterprise and consumer offerings as it plans to launch 5G services.
The tie-up lends Jio the expertise of a global tech giant as it expands digital services to small and medium businesses as well as hundreds of millions of individuals. And it gives Google the unmatched scale of Reliance, whose businesses range from oil to telecoms and e-commerce.
“It’s a broad partnership, it involves multiple pieces of Alphabet working together,” Thomas Kurian, CEO at Google Cloud, told Reuters, adding: “Our own partnership spans multiple parts of Jio not just the communications business … but also health, retail and other things.”
He declined to share the terms of the cloud deal with Jio.
As part of this partnership, Reliance will shift its core retail businesses to Google Cloud’s infrastructure, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in a message played at Reliance’s meeting.
Jio established a 10-year alliance with Microsoft in 2019, aiming to build data centres across India that will be hosted on its Azure cloud platform in a bid to offer services to the country’s booming start-up economy.
Jio disrupted India’s telecom market in 2016 when it launched with cut-price data plans and free voice services. It forced several competitors out of the market and is now India’s biggest mobile carrier with more than 425 million customers.
On Thursday, Ambani said Jio, which also counts Facebook, Qualcomm and Intel among its backers, was confident of being the first to launch 5G services in India.
Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal; Editing by Euan Rocha, Kim Coghill and Alexander Smith; Reuters