Reliance Jio, the multi-billion dollar telecom venture of Reliance Industries, is finally opening up its network to all users. The launch was announced at the Reliance AGM by Chairman Mukesh Ambani on Thursday, who said anyone can now get a Jio SIM, adding the network will be free to use for all until December 31.
There's a lot more to more to Reliance Jio than just cheaper data access though, and here's everything you should know about the network:
1. Reliance Jio is 4G only
The Reliance Jio network is running entirely on 4G - not "mostly 2G, sometimes 3G, and once-in-a-while 4G," Ambani said, taking a dig at other networks. To access the network, you need a 4G compatible phone with VoLTE support. Reliance Retail's lineup of Lyf phones offer a low cost option, starting from Rs. 2,999, though you can buy any phone that supports VoLTE and use it.
If you are not ready to move away from your current phone, you can buy the JioFi portable Wi-Fi hotspot at Rs. 1,999 and take advantage of Jio's plans as long as your phone supports Wi-Fi.
2. 100 percent VoLTE
Reliance Jio is also a 100 percent VoLTE network - the largest in the world, according to Ambani. VoLTE stands for Voice over LTE, by which you make voice calls over the data network. As an end user, nothing is really different - you still dial a number just like you always would, and during the preview offer at least, connections have been clear and reliable. But at the backend, even voice calls use data, compared to non-VoLTE networks, that treat data and voice differently.
3. Everything is free till January 1, 2017
Although Reliance Jio plans were revealed on Thursday, everything is going to be completely free for users until December 31, 2016. Jio's data, voice, and video along with the full bouquet of applications and content will be available fully free for everyone, until the end of the year. Ambani called this Jio's Welcome Offer, which will enable everyone to try out Jio without spending any money. This will also allow users to get comfortable with the various applications that Jio is offering, and Jio will use this period to test interconnections with other operators and to get feedback from customers.
4. 18,000 cities and 2 lakh villages
Jio's a new network, but its reach is already pretty wide - according to Ambani, the Reliance Jio network already covers 18,000 cities and towns, and over 2 lakh villages.
5. To cover 90 percent of India by March 2017
Although it is already covering a large number of cities and villages, that doesn't mean that Jio's rollout has completed yet. It still has some ways to go to cover all of India, and the next target is to reach 90 percent of the population by March 2017, Ambani added.
6. A million Wi-Fi hotspots
Reliance Jio is now in the process of rolling out Wi-Fi hotspots across India. By the middle of 2017, it plans to have 1 million Wi-Fi hotspots across the country, and it's offering Wi-Fi data in the 4G plans it offers; for example, if your plan is for 4GB, you get 8GB of Wi-Fi access as well, while the top 75GB plan gets 150GB of additional data via Wi-Fi hotspots.
These hotspots are coming up at schools, colleges, and other public places.
7. Free voice calls and no roaming
Highlighting how operators only charge for data while voice and messaging are essentially free, Ambani said that Jio will not charge for voice calls. "All voice calls for Jio customers will be absolutely free," he said, adding, "Across India. To any network. Always. And in the spirit of one India - no roaming charges also."
This means that even if you're calling someone on another network - for which Reliance has to pay termination charges to the other network - it will pick up the tab.
8. The cheapest data in India
At the same time, describing data as oxygen, Ambani said that Reliance Jio's second principle is that data must be affordable. "Current market practice is to charge a base rate of Rs. 4,000 to Rs. 10,000 per GB of data," he said, "Jio will have a base rate which is more than at a 90 percent discount over the industry."
Reliance Jio is offering data plans at Rs. 50 per GB, though a look at the actual data prepaid plans shows that this isn't 100 percent accurate.
On the cheapest plan, Reliance offers 4GB of data for Rs. 499 - still a great deal, but not exactly Rs. 50 per GB. However, Reliance is also giving 8GB of Wi-Fi access at Jio Wi-Fi hotspots, and unlimited usage at night, so it definitely works out to a very reasonable amount, and under that Rs. 50/ GB figure once you factor that in.
9. Bundled entertainment services worth Rs. 15,000
That's not all though - Reliance Jio is also going to give free access to its various Jio apps. The full bouquet includes Jio's video on demand service, its music streaming platform, and even a live TV service which allows you to view previously aired shows by scrolling back on the timeline.
There's a lot on offer, but we don't know anything about how the pricing for these services will be structured, only that the full bouquet taken together will cost you Rs. 15,000 per year. However, these are going to be given fully free to all users until the end of 2017.
10. eKYC for fast SIM activations
Noting how inefficient the paper-based manual process to onboard customers is, Ambani noted that people had to wait for hours to get their service activated. In our experience getting two Reliance Jio SIM cards activated it took more than a day. Now however, the process has been revised for eKYC, similar to Vodafone and Airtel. Jio has started rolling this out in Mumbai and Delhi, and soon any customer with an Aadhaar card will be able to walk out of a Jio store with a working connection in 15 minutes, Ambani said. "We are also planning to extend eKYC activation to our customers' doorsteps," he added.