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Reliance Jio: Lessons from the “world’s fastest growing technology company”

Reliance Jio launched in India in early September 2016, and the numbers so far are staggering. Steffen Roehn shares the lessons for all telcos.

India has the second largest and fastest-growing internet penetration in the world. While China’s 720 million internet users represents a 52 percent penetration rate, India’s rate is only 35 percent (460 million internet users). Compare that to the US, which has a 90 percent penetration rate, with around 290 million internet users.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is aiming to make India one of the, if not the, leading countries in the world when it comes to digitization. That’s why everyone wants a piece of the cake in India. And newcomer Reliance Jio is certainly taking its slice.

Reliance Jio launched in India in early September 2016. It is the only operator in India with a nationwide 4G network licence. The numbers so far are staggering:

  • In its first month, Reliance Jio added 16 million subscribers.
  • In its second month, it added an additional 20 million.
  • At the start of December, Reliance Jio announced it had added 50 million subscribers in just 83 days. It claimed that in terms of subscribers per day, this is “the fastest achieved by any technology company in the world including the likes of Facebook, WhatsApp and Skype.”
  • Recent reports suggest the operator has now reached over 72 million subscribers.

At the Great Telco Debate late last year, Steffen Roehn took the stage to outline the operator’s approach and the lessons for more traditional telcos. Previously, Roehn was CIO of T-Mobile and Deutshche Telekom. He is also a TM Forum Ambassador and Reliance Jio is a member of TM Forum. Roehn set up his own consultancy, Roehn Management Consulting GmbH, and in that capacity has been working with Reliance to set up the Reliance 4G network – building the IT automation platform and customer experience.

It isn’t building just any IT platform either. He was tasked with working with a team to develop “a platform that can scale up to 1.5 million new customers per day and 150,000 activations in peak hour.” He succeeded.

With these numbers in mind, the room was all ears when he shared what he thinks traditional telcos can take away from the growth of Reliance Jio.

Rock the boat

Roehn shared one example that resonated, on how Reliance Jio is doing things differently. Getting a SIM card in India has typically been painful, involving a process that includes signing and counter-signing three paper copies, followed by postage and a manual activation process. It can take between 8 and 48 hours. Reliance Jio aimed to get customers “walking out working”.

The team started with the purpose of the bureaucracy: The regulator wants to verify identities before issuing SIMs to counteract terrorism. India also has a digital identity scheme, launched 10 years ago. It requires fingerprints and an iris scan in return for a digital ID in India. It isn’t compulsory but 1 billion out of 1.25 billion Indians have already signed up.

Around 18 months before Reliance Jio launched, Roehn and his team began lobbying the regulator to use this system. They created a demo and three days after they launched got the go-ahead to verify people using digital IDs. In two days, the number of customers taking advantage of this system went from zero to 90 percent – walking out working.

There’s a lesson in Reliance Jio’s experience for all telcos about innovation, according to Roehn:  Customer onboarding isn’t a particularly disruptive process but it proves that “combining bits and pieces of digitization can really rock the boat, and it’s one of the core reasons why we are onboarding so many customers and have queues in front of our shops.”

The company also “rocked the market in India” by giving away voice for free, forever.

Take more risks

Roehn shared this advice for telcos:

  • Take more risks and be more agile: Don’t come with a typical telco mindset. Customers are used to getting buggy software from Amazon, Google, even Apple. Why do they care if they get some buggy stuff from telcos too, as long as it’s cool stuff? “Take some more risks,” he said. Internet players start with a beta offering and telcos should too, Roehn added. Reliance Jio went out with an “almost perfect network” and asked customers to give feedback during a trial period.
  • Completely rethink customer processes: Reliance Jio is mobile and digital only and everyone uses the MyJio app – in the launch month the app was downloaded more than 20 million times. Why? “Because that is the gateway to our services,” Roehn said. You can only get a free service if you do it via the app; you can manage your account and “get goodies”.But what about the legacy? “Forget about your legacy,” Roehn said. “Just forget about it and rethink customer processes: mobile and digital only.”
  • Infrastructure and speed matters, a lot: “I am not saying you should do only infrastructure and speed but I don’t believe in that saying of ‘commodity of infrastructure’,” Roehn said. “I believe, in India especially, infrastructure is key. It’s the differentiating factor and without the focus on infrastructure, our 4G network would never have come to life.”

Watch Roehn’s full interview here (it begins at around 9 minutes into the clip below) and the customer experience debate that followed.



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    Sarah is a freelance writer and editor with an interest in new technologies and how they impact our everyday lives.

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