High-Stakes Competition In India
The heavy investments underscore the high stakes in the country. Despite its vexing red tape and protectionism, India offers a young and smartphone-obsessed population. It’s now Facebook’s biggest market in the world by number of users. And it’s the second-largest market for Google’s YouTube, behind the United States.
Amazon and Walmart together control more than 60% of the Indian e-commerce market. Meanwhile, Walmart is also in talks with India’s Tata Group for a potential investment of up to $25 billion in its new super app, sources told India’s Live Mint earlier this week.
A key entry point for international tech companies in India is Mukesh Ambani. He runs the Reliance Industries empire that spans petroleum, retail and telecom. He is also Asia’s richest man with a net worth of nearly $90 billion, well above Alibaba (BABA) founder Jack Ma’s $54 billion.
Ambani has a reputation as a ruthless mogul, known for undercutting rivals with low prices. His Reliance Jio telecom unit came out of nowhere five years ago to overtake then-market leaders with low data rates and free phones. But he has alienated many ordinary Indians who think there’s no business the company sees and doesn’t want to control.
Keys To The Kingdom: Ambani, Reliance Jio
Analysts say the most attractive part of Ambani’s vast portfolio is Reliance Jio. The company boasts India’s largest mobile telecom network. It’s also the foundation of a buzzy new digital services company called Jio Platforms.
Facebook and Alphabet subsidiary Google bookended a $20.2 billion fundraising spree by Jio Platforms earlier this year, plowing $5.8 billion and $4.5 billion, respectively, into the Indian startup. By July, Jio Platforms had a $58 billion valuation within a year of being formed.
Though each partner has its own reasons for investing, partnering with Reliance Jio is key because it owns the digital highways, says Arvind Singhal, chairman of India-based retail consultancy Technopak Advisors. Reliance Jio boasts 388 million mobile subscribers. Its customers will do more online shopping on their phones in the future, even in small towns and villages.
But Ambani’s sprawling ambitions could make his conglomerate both a rival and a partner to U.S. tech companies in India. Like Walmart and Amazon, Reliance Jio is developing a digital ecosystem across e-commerce, logistics, electronic payments, movie and music streaming, and cloud storage. It even has a videoconferencing service, challenging Google Meet and Zoom Video (ZM).
In fact, Reliance Jio is creating a “superapp” like Tencent‘s (TCEHY) WeChat, says Singhal. Its MyJio app already offers instant messages, while also allowing users to pay bills, listen to music, play games, keep photos in the cloud, read news, access government services and more.