Indian telco Reliance Jio has switched on its 5G network for customers in four cities, albeit under a beta arrangement wherein the service will be available strictly by invitation only.
Under the welcome beta offer, Jio is offering unlimited data at download speeds up to 1 Gbps. The plan is is similar to Jio’s initial 4G offering in 2016.
Jio said that beta users will be automatically upgraded to its 5G service without needing to change their existing Jio SIM. They can also use their current 5G smartphone. The welcome offer enables beta customers to trial 5G services and provide service and user-experience feedback.
Airtel gets jump on Jio
Jio’s 5G service is live in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Varanasi. The launch comes hot on the heels of rival Bharti Airtel’s commercial 5G service launch in eight cities last week.
The telco said that it will progressively expand the beta trial service to other cities once they’re ready. It also said that the beta trials will last “until the network coverage of a city is substantially complete”. In other words, Jio will launch full commercial service once the coverage (and the user experience) is sufficient enough to justify charging money for it.
Jio is marketing the service as ‘True 5G’, based on its adoption of 5G standalone architecture (SA) for its network. Bharti Airtel is using 5G non-standalone architecture (NSA), which could allow it to grow its 5G user base more quickly due to a wider availability of compatible 5G devices. Jio says it is working with all handset brands to ensure that existing 5G smartphones support its services.
Neither telco intends to charge a premium for 5G out of the gate, but do intend to hike tariffs going forward. Both agree that current tariff levels are unsustainable and must go up in the near-term.
However, Jio has maintained that its 5G service will remain affordable, suggesting that the telco will replicate its 4G strategy for wider adoption.
“5G cannot remain an exclusive service available to the privileged few or those in our largest cities. It must be available to every citizen, every home, and every business across India,” Akash M Ambani, chairman of Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited, said in a statement.
Every town, taluka, and tehsil by end-2023
Jio said that its 5G service will be available in every town, taluka, and tehsil (administrative area) by December 2023. Airtel plans to cover the entire country by March 2024, and has an immediate plan to cover the top 50-60 cities by March next year.
Both Jio and Airtel are working with Nokia, Samsung and Ericsson to procure 5G equipment.
“We know we bring innovation, we know our partners are bringing innovation, and when we deliver something to the customers, we want to leverage all of the innovations to deliver the customer the best value proposition,” Jio president Mathew Oommen separately told the Economic Times.
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