After much speculation and plenty of leaks, Reliance Jio announced its ultra-affordable 4G-enabled feature phone today. Called JioPhone, the device promises to bridge the digital divide in India once and for all. RIL chairman and MD Mukesh Ambani announced the Jio Phone at the company’s annual general meeting today, and declared that the combination of low hardware cost, low service subscription cost, and high-speed connectivity will empower over 50 crore users in India who cannot afford even today’s least expensive smartphones and data plans.
The JioPhone is effectively free, since buyers have to pay only a deposit of Rs. 1,500 which is refundable after three years. The lowest subscription cost is Rs. 153 per month, which gives users unlimited data, voice calling, and text messaging. The fine print is that while data is unlimited, speed is capped after 500MB each day. For Rs. 309, Jio Phone subscribers can get 1GB per day for 56 days, which works out to better value. On the other hand, users who can’t pay even that much upfront can buy mini “sachet” Jio packs for Rs. 24 or Rs. 54, which offer similar benefits but only have two days/ one week of validity respectively.
Reliance Jio did not reveal detailed specifications. We know that it is a standard candybar with a 2.4-inch screen, and supports storage expansion. Reliance did not confirm what operating system the JioPhone runs, but we do know that Jio apps including Jio Music, Jio Cinema and Jio TV will be preloaded. Initial observations suggest that apps will be supported and that Facebook is one of them, but WhatsApp is not.
The Jio Phone can recognise voice commands in 22 Indian languages, which should further help improve telecom penetration in India. It also has an emergency alert system that transmits the user’s location via SMS to predefined contacts. Finally, it was announced that the JioPhone will ship with hardware to support digital payments, though this functionality will not be ready when the first phones reach users.
Reliance hopes to have five million JioPhones available each week, all of which are manufactured in India. An additional accessory called the JioPhone TV Cable will let users connect to any kind of TV including old CRTs to enjoy Jio content on a bigger screen, but you will need to be on the Rs. 309 Jio Plan to enjoy this feature.
As for how to buy a Jio Phone, Reliance announced a beta test period for select customers starting on August 15, to celebrate India’s 70th year of independence. Pre-bookings will then open on August 24 via the MyJio app and at Reliance’s retail locations, with availability on a first-come first-served basis starting in September.
Reliance Jio now has over 125 million subscribers, of whom 100 million are paying customers. The company has signed up an average of seven subscribers every second since its launch 10 months ago. Jio users make over 250 crore minutes’ worth of voice and video calls every day and consume 125 crore GB of data each month. India now surpasses the US and China in terms of data consumption and has zoomed from 155th in the world to the number one position since Jio’s launch.
In addition to all the excitement about the JioPhone at today’s company AGM, Reliance Jio announced that it is on track to launch JioFiber soon, and considers fixed-line broadband to be the next big frontier for digital India. No specific launch date or tariff plans were announced, but we were told that most of the necessary infrastructure for a pan-India JioFiber rollout is already in place.
Reliance considers Jio the jewel in its crown, and is aiming to become involved in education, entertainment, remote healthcare, e-governance, financial services and more, leveraging its capabilities in Software as a Service (SaaS), big data analytics, blockchain technology, and artificial intelligence.
Man who leaked Jio’s user database wanted free recharges
In other Jio news, the man arrested for accessing Reliance Jio’s user database without authorisation and subsequently publishing the details online, has told police that his original intention was to try to get free recharges after Jio’s free offer period ended. He managed to gain access to the database using credentials meant only for Jio vendors who issue recharges, and then decided to exploit the information he was able to access by creating a searchable database. The data breach has raised questions about the security of sensitive user information, since Jio accounts are linked to customers’ Aadhaar numbers.
Airtel complains of losses caused by Reliance Jio; TRAI discards floor price proposal
Airtel has complained that Reliance Jio is engaging in unfair competition, costing it up to Rs. 550 crore per quarter. At the root of the problem is the Mobile Termination Charge (MTC) imposed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, which operators have to pay each other when calls are placed from subscribers on one network to those on another. Because of the massive number of Jio subscribers who now have free calling, Airtel is receiving money from Jio but says that the charge does not cover the cost of handling the call. Reliance wants MTC to be scrapped, but Airtel opposes this. The two sides continue to trade statements.
Airtel and other operators including Idea Cellular have suffered another setback, with the TRAI deciding not to pursue their idea of a common floor price on service plans. Jio has led the charge in terms of offering free perks and rock-bottom prices, and its ability to do so would be curtailed by a floor price. Jio called the proposal anti-competitive and regressive.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 launch date confirmed
Samsung has confirmed that it will unveil the Galaxy Note 8 smartphone on August 23. A teaser shows that the device has an Infinity Display much like the ones on the Galaxy S8 and S8+, as well as the series’ signature S-Pen stylus. The company is promising “bigger things” which could refer to the screen and also to the device’s capabilities. Meanwhile, fresh leaked mockups appear to confirm a horizontal dual-camera arrangement and an off-centre fingerprint sensor on the phone’s rear. The launch will be important for Samsung as it puts the disastrous Galaxy Note 7 episode behind it once and for all.
Budget Nokia 2 Android model tipped
A photo posted to Chinese website Baidu appears to confirm plans for a new low-cost smartphone called the Nokia 2. The device is shown next to a Nokia 3, which is currently the most affordable model in HMD Global’s Android-based Nokia lineup. The tip claims that this phone will be powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 processor and have a 5-inch display. It is unknown when HMD Global will announce this phone, if it is in fact genuine.
LG Q8 launched
LG has announced a new model, the LG Q8, in Italy. It is unknown if this model will launch in other markets, and if so whether it will have the same name. It is a smaller version of the V20, with the same secondary screen and dual rear cameras. The device has a Snapdragon 820 SoC, 5.2-inch QHD screen, 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. It runs Android 7.0 and is rated IP67 for water and dust resistance.
Facebook secretly working on modular device concept
Facebook is reportedly working on a modular hardware concept, picking up where Google’s Project Ara left off. A patent document appears to show the company developing a device with a touch display which can make calls, though it could be more than just a smartphone. Images in the patent document are vague, and the only thing that is known for sure is that it was filed by a team which includes former Project Ara employees who are now working for Facebook.
Google adds local event listings to search results
Google now shows local event listings in its search results in India. The new information shows up on Google’s mobile website and in its app. Multiple event listings sites have been tapped to provide the information, and users can click through to those sites to book tickets and see more details. Events can be filtered according to a user’s preferences. They will show up when users search for topic areas such as food or cinema, and also when users ask Google what is happening around them.
UberMOTO launched in Noida and Ghaziabad
Uber has launched its UberMOTO service in parts of Noida and Ghaziabad, after earlier introducing it in Gurugram and Faridabad. The motorcycle ride service costs as little as Rs. 10 and aims to solve the problem of last-mile connectivity for urban commuters. It works just like Uber’s car services. Users book a ride, and are given the rider’s details. The same GPS tracking and safety features are available. Uber promotes UberMOTO as quick, convenient and affordable, allowing users to zip through traffic that cars get stuck in.