To say that Reliance Jio’s entry into India’s telecom space—in 2016—was ‘revolutionary’ will be an understatement. Not only did Jio build a massive modern 4G mobile network, it also gave it away for free for a considerable period of time. India, nay the world, had not seen a revolution like this before.
“There’s nothing more disrupting than that,” Ookla co-founder and CEO Doug Suttles had said, while speaking exclusively to TheSpuzz Online recently.
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Jio’s ways literally shook the space to its core, generating a paradigm shift in how one perceived data and voice calling. Suddenly, it seemed every other operator was overcharging the customer. The shift was so tectonic, it created a vacuum—near monopoly—forcing rivals to take a step back and eventually bring tariffs down.
Things have eased somewhat in the last few years but Jio continues to keep the industry on its toes with some or the other announcement. The JioPhone Next is yet another rabbit it has pulled out of its hat. Mukesh Ambani had taken the wraps off the long rumoured Jio smartphone during Reliance Industries Limited’s 44th Annual General Meeting in June. Initially pegged to launch on September 10, it will finally be available for buying from November 4.
Over the last few days, since Jio started sharing more details about the smartphone, there’s been a lot of chit-chatter going around how—and if—the JioPhone Next is as disruptive a product as say the JioPhone. Some are talking about the hardware and how it pales next to a Xiaomi or a Realme—and Samsung and Nokia—phone that cost nearly the same. In other words, there are many, seemingly better options available today.
Those conversations are not entirely justified though, not unless someone has actually spent some time with the hardware, and even then, those comparisons are slightly misplaced.
Jio has made it abundantly clear that software, not hardware, is the JioPhone Next’s marquee feature. It says it has worked ‘closely’ with Google to customise Android—which is actually Android 11 Go—to push for a voice-based narrative and more granular localisation. Whether—or not—those customisations are substantial enough to call it a ‘new OS’—as Jio so blatantly puts on the phone’s website—remains to be seen though.
The other set of conversations are around the pricing itself. Those are the right conversations.
The JioPhone Next ticket price is Rs 6,499. It was expected to be cheaper. A lot cheaper. Rumour mills had suggested a ballpark figure of somewhere around Rs 3,499. One probable reason could be the global chip shortage, something that was also responsible for its delayed launch.
In what can only be termed as a ‘classic’ Jio move, the company is introducing financing options to give you some sense of ultra-affordability. It goes so far as to say, these options will make the entry price of the JioPhone Next extremely affordable and almost equal to a feature phone price. Simply put, it is bringing carrier-run contract deals back from the dead.
Here’s a quick look at how the whole thing will work:
Jio will charge an upfront fee of Rs 1,999 and another Rs 501 for processing. That’s Rs 2,500 in all.
Now, you’ll need to pick one of its four EMI plans. These are always-on, large, XL, and XXL. Each is further broken down into 18–24-month windows and will get you additional data and voice services.
Basically, if you choose the XXL plan for 24 months, you’ll end up paying Rs 15,700 for the JioPhone Next along with 2.5GB daily data and unlimited calling benefits. The always-on plan for 24 months will set you back by Rs 9,700. You’ll also get 5GB data and 100 minutes of calling each month. Jio’s website makes no mention if it would also give you free access to any of its music and video streaming apps, something that’s pretty common in its individual recharge plans. There is no mention of SMS either.
Besides, the JioPhone Next comes with a few conditions.
- One SIM is PLMN Locked to Jio
- Mobile data connectivity is available only on Jio SIM
What this means is, you’re locked to Jio for everything but voice calls—the phone is dual-SIM. Now, this isn’t surprising since that’s how carrier ‘subsidised’ phones are supposed to work anyway although we hear Jio will keep reminding you time and again to pay your dues across the JioPhone Next UI and even threaten you to remotely disable it if you fail to make the payment on time. That’s a little too much, we think.
But there’s an even bigger catch with the JioPhone Next and you can only blame Jio for it. It’s the whole host of prepaid plans it sells already, those that offer a whole host of options and benefits that you can pick and choose from depending on your use case and budget. Moreover, you can change your plan on the fly. No matter the plan, it’s highly likely you’re getting some of the cheapest rates in the market and the added flexibility sweetens the deal even more.
A ‘popular’ Jio prepaid plan with 3GB daily data, unlimited voice calling, 100 SMS a day, and complimentary access to JioTV, JioCinema, JioSecurity, and JioCloud is currently listed for Rs 3,499. It has a validity of 365 days. Say if you get it for two years straight for Rs 6,998 and on top of that, you buy the JioPhone Next sold separately for Rs 6,499, the maximum you’d pay for all this is Rs 13,497. That’s Rs 2,203 less than Jio’s highest-end financing option. Needless to say, you can save even more if you opt for a lower plan.
Unless the JioPhone Next gets cheaper or Jio extends the duration of its contract, the JioPhone Next will be a tough sell in India. Both seem highly unlikely at this point in time. There’s a reason why carriers don’t subsidise phones and have contract options in India like it happens in other parts of the world. The model has failed to generate steam. The biggest reason is that India has some of the lowest calls, texts and data costs plus there’s a gazillion different smartphones to choose from across price points. It’s just not economically viable for carriers and makes little to no sense at all for buyers.
The JioPhone Next, at least in its current form, can help boost Jio’s average revenue per user (ARPU) and in turn, profits, but will it be as revolutionary as the JioPhone? That seems a little far-fetched.