The Indian Express got a rare interview with Jyotindra “JT” Thacker of Reliance Jio, where, responding to questions from Anant Goenka, Director and Head (New Media) of the Indian Express group. The Indian Express has a story based on this interaction, here.

A few key points made by Thacker in the interview (the Reliance Jio conversation begins around the 24 minute mark):

On Payments Banks

Thacker said that the cost of manufacturing cash today is more than the cost of the cash, and the only way to reduce the costs incurred on cash is to go digital. This why the RBI governor “is going to encourage digital payments in a big way. There is a legislation that below Rs 2000, you don’t need two factor authentication. There is an opportunity to remove cash from the economy. The black economy will also go down, and the country will proper. We are only unleashing that revolution, and it will be digital money. That’s why it’s a synergistic opportunity for us.”

Responding to a query from an HDFC bank executive about what will happen to Jio Wallet, now that Reliance Jio has gotten a Payments Banks license, Thacker said that at the time that Jio Wallet was launched, Payments Banks weren’t even on the horizon. “The only way out for us was to do a prepaid wallet and make sure we do this. We’ll stop the wallet, or we’ll continue and make sure that the Payments Bank is the predominant factor for us.”

Jio Chat

An unleashing of bandwidth, and “We’ll be an intelligent pipe”

“What you’ll see an unleashing of bandwidth, first. All those people who are starved of bandwidth at an affordable price, should see bandwidth,” Thacker said. “You’ll see devices available at affordable prices, and India should then work on enabling the startup economy. We wanted our network to be long and complete nationwide. We didn’t want to just create a dumb pipe for others come to ride on it. So we wanted to create some intelligence on the network. So we thought about creating apps, and an economy which we believe will succeed in the long run. If apps and bandwidth typically go together, then it becomes a viable proposition for the end user.”

MediaNama’s take: The Internet was built to be a dumb pipe, with innovation and intelligence at the edges. This allowed users and businesses to create services and content and distribute it, and for users to pick winners, without the network interfering with user selection, whether via speed, price or availability. We hope that when Thacker says that “apps and bandwidth go together”, it doesn’t amount to discriminatory practices from Reliance Jio, in favoring their own apps and services versus others, and violating Net Neutrality. MediaNama readers should remember that Reliance Jio, in its submission to the TRAI, asked for:

– Regulatory framework to address security concerns, with communication services like Whatsapp and Viber, to bring them on par with telecom operators.
– Hosting services from within India.
– “All types of OTT services should be brought under minimal and simplistic regulatory framework.” OTT, here, refers to the Internet as accessed via a telecom network.
– “Some form of price prioritisation for India based OTT apps could also be considered within the contours of Net Neutrality”.

More on Reliance Jio on Net Neutrality here.

What will be launched when Jio launches

– “a Mifi device coming, a very efficient, a very long battery life Mifi, and you’ll see dongles, for sure. You’ll see smartphones and you’ll see Mifi cards. Initially you’ll have WiFi tablets, because LTE tablets are still not that popular in the world, so people are still going for WiFi tablets.” Initially, the WiFi tablets will be Android. Later they will be Windows based too.

On the delay in launch: Were waiting for devices to become affordable

“We took a bet on LTE in 2300MHz in 2010-2011, and now it’s 2015. We thought that within three years, there would be handsets, devices and chipsets that would make it up fast enough. Unfortunately, those chipsets and prices never came at a price point which Reliance wanted. We started getting auctions of newer and newer spectrum during that timeframe. We started re-engineering ourselves to say that now we’ve got 2300 MHz, 1800 MHz and this year we bought 850 MHz. So we then had to buy a handset and technology that can support 850, 1800 MHz and 2300 MHz simultaneously, rather than doing this. We approached Qualcomm, which is our chipset partner and vendor, saying we need to make this. Fortunately for us, Qualcomm was also following that particular path. That’s how that decision.”

“If you want to launch a business, and if you can’t create a large enough dent, like a revolution, as we would like to call it, then there’s no point in doing it. Since handsets were not available at a price point which is affordable for the masses of India, there’s no sense in launching the business. So we thought might as well wait for one more year. This year you can see that everyone is launching Rs 5000 handsets, my competition is also talking about it. That is the affordable price point that people are going to buy.”

On spectrum

“If you look at the total spectrum we’ve got, we’re the largest spectrum bank, compared with any other operator in India as of today.”

“Learning lessons from Korea, Japan and USA, the only way wireless operator can become a dominant player in this space if you have a dominant amount of spectrum. It’s very difficult for an operator to take just 20 MHz and say that I’ll dominate. We never thought that the government will auction the spectrum so fast.”