Stock Jio
Jio and Ambani want to ride the 5G juggernaut and take an unassailable lead in India's teleco wars. Image Credit: AP

Mumbai: Billionaire Mukesh Ambani urged the Indian government to accelerate the rollout of fifth-generation telecom services and scrap outdated 2G technology run mainly by rivals, Bharti Airtel Ltd and Vodafone Idea Ltd.

"As many as 300 million mobile subscribers in India are still trapped in the 2G era," Ambani, Asia's richest man and chairman of Reliance Industries Ltd., said in a speech at the India Mobile Congress. "I assure you that Jio will pioneer the 5G revolution in India in the second-half of 2021."

Ambani's push for these policy measures will give an unparalleled edge to Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd., which disrupted the sector in 2016 with an intense tariff war and is now the country's top wireless operator with more than 400 million subscribers. Being a new network, Jio doesn't have 2G wireless phone users, unlike long-running rivals Bharti and Vodafone Idea.

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On his own

Ambani has often said that Jio is ready for 5G while its competitors - indebted and loss-making - will find it harder to keep up with such investments.

Billionaire Sunil Mittal, who helms Bharti Airtel, said at the same industry event that India would be ready for 5G in the next two to three years.

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Ambani also wants deeper penetration and easier availability of smartphones. "Urgent policy steps are needed to ensure that these underprivileged people have an affordable smartphone," he said on Tuesday.

A $54 smartphone

Reliance Industries had asked local suppliers to ramp up production capacity in India to as many as 200 million smartphones over the next two years, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg in September. The group was in talks with domestic assemblers to make a version of its Jio phone that would run on Google's Android and cost about 4,000 rupees ($54).