Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) on Friday said it will begin commercial operations of its 4G telecommunication services by December, offering a timeline for the launch of a key diversification move that investors have long awaited.
Over a third of Ambani's more-than-one-hour-long speech was focussed on RIL's plans to use the 4G or fourth-generation telecom technology, also known as LTE or Long-Term Evolution, to offer wireless broadband as well as voice services.
Stating that the company was in the pre-launch testing and stabilisation phase of the large and complex network, Ambani said extensive beta launch involving "millions of friendly customers across all markets" will be initiated over the next few months.
"Over the next few months, we will initiate an extensive beta launch," said Reliance chairman Mukesh Ambani, India's richest man, while addressing shareholders at the annual general meeting of RIL, which also operates the world's largest crude oil refining.
"This beta program will be upgraded into commercial operations around December of this year," he said, adding this year will be the first full year of commercial operations for the group's telecom arm Reliance Jio.
Reliance, which re-entered telecoms in 2010 by acquiring the only company Infotel Broadband Services that had won nationwide 4G airwaves in a government auction, is yet to start services as it builds the business under unit Reliance Jio on an unproven and still-developing technology.
That has caused concern among analysts and investors, who feel Reliance has little to show for the more than $15 billion spent on digital business including the Jio venture so far and that it has limited experience in consumer-facing businesses. The announcement of a concrete roll-out plan could assuage some of those concerns.
Targeting 100% national coverage within the next three years, Ambani said the 4G LTE smartphones will be brought to India at a price less than Rs 4,000 by December.
These phones will beam HD television, video on demand, music, news and magazines, he added.
The group's telecom arm Reliance Jio has applied for a pan-India cable television multi-system operator (MSO) license and plans to enter into broadcast TV distribution, Ambani announced. Besides, it has partnered with State Bank of India to apply for a payments bank license.
Reliance Jio has become the first operator to achieve wireless coverage far in excess as per its license conditions, Ambani said.
A successful launch of Jio could potentially disrupt the sector which has over the past few years been dominated by incumbents. Jio would compete with the likes of Indian mobile phone market leaders Bharti Airtel Ltd and Vodafone's local unit.
The billionaire industrialist also unveiled a roadmap focussing on adding capacity in core businesses and expanding rapidly in new ventures like retail and telecom.
Ambani said Reliance is investing over Rs 2 lakh crore in the core oil and petrochemical interest by building new facilities and creating new businesses that will come to fruition in the next 12 to 18 months.
Looking to reap full benefits of these investments from the financial year 2016-17 onwards, RIL would have a unique portfolio of globally competitive petrochemical and refining business with a new age India-centric consumer business with very high growth potential.
"These investments will build new capacities, strengthen our global positions, improve the return on capital and make our existing refinery and petrochemical businesses among the most competitive in the world," he said.
Reliance Industries, India's second-largest company by market value, gets most of its revenue from its sprawling energy empire, which
includes the world's largest refinery complex in Gujarat.
It has, over the past few years, focused on expanding into newer areas such as media, retail and telecommunications to counter a
slowdown in its energy business.
Reliance's retail business, the largest in India, will expand to more than 900 cities by next year from 200 cities now, Ambani said.
Reliance shares were up 1.5% on Friday afternoon, compared to a flat Mumbai stock market.