Reliance Jio has claimed at reaching “16 million users” in 26 days since its launch, claiming that it has “created a world record by crossing 16 Million subscribers in its first month of operations (September, 2016).”
Aside of the immaterial “world record” PR, it is worth remembering that this growth has come on the basis of giving free mobile Internet connectivity and calls, and that many potential Jio customers were struggling to even get connections, owing to inordinately high wait times often stretching into hours. They could possibly have gotten more. Jio also hasn’t clarified about how many of these customers were already using the service prior to commercial launch, since it did a staggered rollout. The 16 million users in 26 day claim will possibly not hold up to deeper scrutiny.
That said, the rollout, as it was initially for “friends and family”, then in partnership with various handset manufacturers, did help build up intrigue, demand and hype for the full rollout, and the offer of free calls and data for the first three months helped create that demand for connections. Aadhaar based activation, and availability across 3100 towns and cities was also a good idea.
Of course, it’s unlikely that Jio has added 16 million to India’s Internet user base: most of these are likely to be a second SIM, and it’s better to see them as connections, not users. An Uber driver in Bangalore a couple of weeks ago told me that the data on his Jio connection works better than Idea Cellular’s in the city, and he often uses Jio as a hotspot for his other phone, which has the Uber app running. He plans to eventually drop Idea for Jio, but the problem is that the calls to Airtel and Vodafone numbers from that Jio connection did not work: Airtel connected once in 20 attempts, he said. Hard to believe, but he said he was using around 2 GB data per day.
Now this will change once Jio starts charging for usage. The Uber driver had heard rumors of Airtel making data available for free for three months, and planned to drop Jio for Airtel if that were to happen (and Jio started charging for services). Of course, this is just one instance, and shouldn’t be seen as indicative of a norm.
How big is 16 million?
Assuming these are all active connections, in a month, Jio has possibly crossed HFCL, MTS (now owned by RCOM) and MTNL, in terms of number of active connections (in comparison with June 2016 data).
Next on the list Telenor, with around 39 million active connections, followed by Tata Docomo, with 47 million. BSNL has 63 million active connections, while Aircel has 64 million.
There’s a long way to go before Jio can challenge the top three: Airtel with 247 million, Vodafone with 189 million, and Idea Cellular with 183 million.