Reliance is moving closer to have Jio as the default setting for Indians' online and communication needs. Image Credit: Reuters

Mumbai: Billionaire Mukesh Ambani extended his fund-raising streak for Jio Platforms Ltd. by selling an $873 million stake to General Atlantic, an early investor in Airbnb Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc.

The US-based private equity fund's agreement to take a 1.3 per cent stake sets an enterprise value of 5.16 trillion rupees ($68 billion) for the digital services business of Ambani's Reliance Industries Ltd.

The transaction takes investment raised by Jio in recent weeks to almost $9 billion, including stakes sold to Facebook Inc., Silver Lake and Vista Equity Partners. The deal announced late Sunday also broadens backing for Jio's plan to use its almost 400 million mobile phone subscribers as a base for an e-commerce drive to shake up India's vast consumer markets.

Saudi Arabia's $320 billion sovereign wealth fund is also considering purchasing a minority stake in Jio.

"We are delighted that a renowned global investor like General Atlantic is partnering with us in our journey to digitally empower India and Indians," said Akash Ambani, director of Reliance Jio, and Chairman Mukesh Ambani's son.

The funds also support Ambani's vow to pay down more than $20 billion of net debt at Reliance earlier than an initial March 2021 deadline.

Mukesh Ambani formed Jio Platforms by combining the conglomerate's digital apps and wireless carrier, Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd., into a holding company.

Quick with the 4G

Started in 2016, the carrier is now India's largest after storming past rivals by building a nationwide 4G network, then offering free calling and data services at prices established competitors with older networks could not match without losing money.

Rights offer

Ambani is also seeking to raise about $7 billion selling shares to existing holders as part of a drive to build confidence in his oil, telecommunications and retail conglomerate. The offering, set to open May 20 and close June 3, includes a promise from the billionaire and the largest investors to acquire their full allotment, plus any shares left by minority shareholders.

Out to get the US retail giants
The plans for Jio also put Reliance into more direct competition with giants including Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc., both of which have spent big to enter India, the world's biggest open consumer market.

Facebook, for example, says it already has 400 million users in India, while its service is blocked in China. The world's largest global social network is working to integrate Jio's e-commerce business, JioMart, into its WhatsApp messaging application in India, a step that could allow the platform to piggyback on the service's hundreds of millions of users.