The lights are rarely turned off at the Reliance Corporate Park in Navi Mumbai these days. Expats and Indian executives can be seen working late into the night on Reliance Industries’ newest baby — high speed data and voice services over fourth generation (4G) telecom networks. At about 1 am or sometimes even later, buses ferry them to RIL’s corporate guest houses across the city. There are telecom engineers and executives here from the US, Germany and China, most of them working on project basis. They will leave when the services are rolled out, expected in the last quarter of CY13. But there’s no fixed time-table — not officially, at least.
Given the state of the telecom business in India, being a late entrant with strong financial backing can actually be a plus. At Reliance, it’s obvious that the group, with the full backing of chairman Mukesh Ambani, is gearing up to seize any advantage it can in what promises to be an epic battle. Certainly, this time round, the stakes are much higher: whoever cracks the 4G code first will walk away with the crème de la crème of mobile subscribers. With average revenue in voice services dropping almost by the day, mobile operators are pinning their hopes on data services. And when it comes to speed (the yardstick by which most subscribers judge data plans), 4G and LTE (long-term evolution) are the most advanced technologies right now.
LTE can deliver speeds of up to 100 megabits per second (mbps) in an ideal environment, which allows users to access rich content and multimedia applications such as e-learning, HD movies, multiple downloads of heavy files, online streaming of videos without buffering as well as HD online gaming and other services.
For Ambani, this is a second entry into a sector that’s especially close to his heart. He was the brain behind Reliance Industries’ foray into CDMA in 2002 through Reliance Infocomm. In the split between the Ambani brothers in 2005, younger brother Anil got control of the telecom assets but Mukesh’s soft spot for the business is evident: his new venture is called Reliance Jio Infocomm (Anil’s company is now called Reliance Communications). Although the telecom sector has changed dramatically in the past decade, there is a sense of déjà vu around Ambani’s ambitious plans.