Reliance launches JioPhone

Reliance Industries Ltd's stock surged to its highest in almost a decade on a day India's largest company by market capitalisation announced a one-for-one bonus share issue and unveiled a 4G feature phone aimed at attracting millions of low-spending users, raising the prospect of greater disruption in an already stressed telecom market.

Named JioPhone, the device is technically free but the subscriber will have to pay a deposit of  Rs.1,500 that's refundable after three years if the handset is returned. Its target is the 500 million Indians who are still on feature, or basic, phones using primarily voice services and haven't moved to a smartphone for reasons of affordability or because they don't really feel they need one. The company has signed up 125 million subscribers but there's been a slowdown of late in the pace of user additions.  With voice free for life, a JioPhone user will also get unlimited SMS services and half a GB of data a day for Rs.153 a month. Subscribers can watch videos and listen to music through Jio's own preloaded apps besides accessing popular apps such as Facebook and YouTube, apart from regular Internet browsing on a 2.4-inch screen.

A government source said the phone will also have the Narendra Modi app pre-embedded, so that the “poorest of the poor can directly connect with PM Modi. In case users want more data to watch content on TV through a specially developed cable that they need to buy, they can also avail Jio's Dhan Dhana Dhan plan .Since Jio has focused on building a 4G network, the JioPhone will allow the company to extend its reach to the lower end of the market.

Besides the feature phone -launched by Ambani scions Isha and Akash Ambani -RIL marked 40 years since its listing by surprising investors with a 1:1 bonus offer and a dividend of Rs.13 a share. This is the company's first bonus issue since 2009; Ambani called it the country's largest.

Ambani expects the Jio team to ensure most 2G feature phone users migrate to JioPhone, thereby making the “2G feature phone obsolete“.

The JioPhone will work on the company's in-house operating system known as Kai and will come with preloaded apps. It supports all 22 major Indian languages, and comes with a voice command feature that will allow users to make voice calls and send messages. JioPhone users can press #5 to send a distress signal along with location information to a de signated list of numbers. The device hardware is ready for secure payments, allowing customers to make digital payments.

Later this year, Jio plans to introduce NFC technology, which will be enabled via a software upgrade.

NFC, or near-field communication, is a form of contactless communication between devices like smartphones or tablets. The technology allows a user to wave the smartphone over a NFC compatible device to send information or even make payments.

The phones will be available for beta testing from August 15, and for pre-booking to the general public from August 24. Deliveries will start in September on a first come, first-served basis. Jio aims to make 5 million JioPhones available every week.

All JioPhones will be made in India from the last quarter of 2017.

Jio said its 125 million-plus customers make 2.50 billion minutes of voice and video calls every day.

The company said it will have over 10,000 Jio offices across the country, servicing sales channel partners and more than 1 million retail outlets.

The parent company, which has invested more than Rs.2 lakh crore in its telecom venture, plans to cover 99% of the country with Jio's services in one year.

The 40th AGM of Reliance Industries was a noisy and emotional affair with an excited group of shareholders cheering the Ambani family, chanting their names and giving them multiple standing ovations. There was immense excitement when Isha and Akash Ambani showed off some of the features of the JioPhone and rousing applause when Mukesh Ambani thanked his wife for being with the group for 30 years of its 40-year journey.

The matriarch of the family Kokilaben got emotional when the chairman dedicated the past 40 years of the group's success to his father and Reliance founder, the late Dhirubhai Ambani.

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