Reliance Jio, an Indian LTE mobile network operator, a subsidiary of the Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) conglomerate, has announced its very own mobile device – the JioPhone.
It’s a 4G LTE feature phone with VoLTE support, NFC and Bluetooth connectivity, a 2.4” QVGA display, a 2000 mAh battery, 512MB of RAM with 4GB of storage, a voice assistant (with an oddly familiar look), and Jio plans to sell it for an effective price of $0 – or ₹0, since it will only be sold in India.
The word ‘effective’ is important here; Jio is asking for a security deposit of ₹1,500 ($23) from buyers, which can be fully refunded in exchange for the device after three years.
There's a demo of the device starting at the 1:33:27 mark in the video below.
Mukesh Ambani, number one on India’s richest persons' list and Chairman of RIL, announced the device at the company's annual shareholders meeting in Mumbai:
"There are 78 crore (780 million) mobile phones in India. However, in this 78 crore (780 million), there are more than 50 crore (500 million) feature phone users, who have been left out. They can neither afford the cheapest LTE smartphone, nor the exorbitant cost of data."
"Today, I am delighted to announce that JioPhone will be available to all Indians for an effective price of - ₹0. A JioPhone user can use the JioPhone for 36 months, and can get a full refund of the security deposit of ₹1,500 by returning the used JioPhone. Net-net, you pay nothing for the JioPhone.”
Jio will also provide JioPhone customers with cheaper tariffs on its network; for ₹153 ($2.3) per month, subscribers will get unlimited voice calls and 500MB of data every day, along with access to several of Jio’s apps like JioCinema, JioTV, JioMusic, and JioBrowser – this is a feature phone, after all.
Interestingly, Jio is also offering an option to purchase an additional “JioTV Cable” that subscribers can use to mirror the device onto a TV – what’s significant is that this cable will also work with the ancient CRT televisions that are still common in many parts of India. Unfortunately, the mirroring functionality is only available to those who pay the higher tier ₹309 ($4.7) per month plan.
Ambani added that Jio’s 4G network is expected to cover most of India within the next 12 months:
“Our network continues to rapidly expand across the country. Jio, in the next 12 months, will cover 99% of [India's] population. Because of Jio, India's 4G coverage will be more than its 2G coverage.”
JioPhone is expected to ship to select beta testers starting from August 15, with preorders opening on August 24. Jio plans to begin shipping the device by September this year.
In March earlier this year, it was reported that Google and Jio were collaborating on a low-cost 4G LTE device for the Indian market – it remains unclear if this is indeed that device, or if the report had any merit to it.
This isn't the first time an unbelievably low-cost (in this case, free) device has come out of India; last year, Indian startup Ringing Bells became news by announcing a sub-$5 smartphone. Unfortunately, that ended with the company's head being arrested on charges of fraud.
Reliance Industries, however, is a multi-billion dollar conglomerate - and Jio has been disrupting the Indian wireless industry ever since its commercial launch last September. JioPhone, it seems, is just another move to disrupt the industry.