Reliance Jio Infocomm subscribers may continue to enjoy data services at a nominal rate, combined with free voice calls, for another three months.
The Mukesh Ambani-owned operator has announced that free service will be valid till June 30. Unlike the earlier free offers that incumbent telcos have termed predatory, the latest introductory offer will charge a fee of about Rs 100 for data, while voice will be free. “We have to start making revenue,” one of the persons mentioned above said. Jio did not respond to emailed queries sent by ET.
The company’s free voice and data offers have attracted over 72 million subscribers in four months after its commercial services were launched on September 5 last year. India’s top telcos, Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular and Vodafone India, have been forced to slash data and voice rates – even offering voice for free under some plans – to counter the aggressive pricing offered by Jio. The newest entrant offers only 4G services and has claimed its affordable services will trigger a mass adoption of data as its production costs are a fraction of that of its competitors.
But for most of its 72.4 million-plus subscribers, Jio is still not the primary phone connection and the telecom operator runs the risk of losing them if it increases its rates significantly.
“We expect many will go back to using their primary number if the (free) offer is withdrawn, and Jio could well lose over half its subscribers if it starts charging more without fixing the call drop problem,” said Chris Lane, a senior analyst at US brokerage, Bernstein. Offering a nominal price for data – lower than what it had announced in September -with voice free may prevent a sharp drop in customers, and the operator can still start its payment cycles, said analysts.“But it has to come up with cheaper tariff because other incumbents have already launched reduced packs. This price war is a burden on the company (telcos) and the government loses on licence fee as well,” said an analyst who preferred anonymity.
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