MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: Mukesh Ambani announced new frontiers of expansion in the digital and telecom space and sealed a mega Rs 33,737 crore ($4.5 billion) deal with Google for a minority stake in Jio Platforms, managing to score a rare distinction of getting the American search giant walk into a company where social media major Facebook is also present.
In the process, Ambani — who has raised a massive Rs 2.12 lakh crore (in excess of Reliance Industries net debt of Rs 1.61 lakh crore) over the past few months — also spoke about plans for getting into indigenous 5G technology that pits him against global telecom tech and infrastructure majors such as China’s Huawei, Finland’s Nokia, Sweden’s Ericsson, and Korea’s Samsung.
After acquiring the biggest chunk of the telecom subscriber base in India, Asia’s richest man is now seeking to be ready to meet the demand for 5G equipment coincides with Huawei’s global blacklisting — from the US and the UK to Australia, and a possible bar in India too — amid concerns over its links with Chinese PLA. A successful foray into this segment will complete the loop for what was once a staid oil and petrochemicals company. Through Jio, the group will not just offer telecom services and equipment but also handsets for which it intends to use Google’s Android platform.
At Reliance Industries Ltd’s 43rd AGM, the Senior Ambani — who addressed shareholders through a video link from his residence Antilia — also said that his group’s aggressive fund-raising would continue as after the series of deals in telecom and digital through Jio Platforms, he would look at roping in international investors in Reliance Retail, which is taking on the e-tail giants such as Amazon and Walmart-led Flipkart through JioMart platform, which is now being offered in beta version but will soon be launched nationally.
“In last year’s AGM speech, I had shared my goals of growing our businesses through partnerships and achieving a net debt free balance sheet. I am happy to report that we have fulfilled this promise well ahead of the timelines that we had set ourselves,” he said, while announcing the investments by Google which also saw the Alphabet’s global CEO (and India-born) Sundar Pichai speak about the partnership as he joined in digitally.
Google’s is the 13th investor to bet big on Jio Platforms in the past 12 weeks. The investment will give Google a 7.7% stake in Jio (Facebook has 9.9%) and will occupy a seat on its board alongside Facebook.
His focus, however, remains on the new-age digital businesses as he called Jio as a “hyper-growth engine” for the company, which will see the maximum action in terms of expansion and new offerings. “The Digital Revolution marks the greatest disruptive transformation in the history of mankind… India must lead this change,” as he spoke about new platforms such as Jio Meet (which has 5 million downloads and taken on the likes of Zoom, Cisco Webex and Microsoft Meet), Jio Glass mixed-reality gear, and Jio TV Plus content aggregator (brings OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon and TV channels and apps to its set-top box users).
He said that over the next three years, the company is eyeing to deploy over a billion smart sensors; while connecting with more than 50 million homes and business establishments.
On 5G, where the government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have also emphasised on indigenous solutions (especially in the wake of troubles with China and Huawei), Ambani said that Jio has designed and developed a complete solution from scratch. “This will enable us to launch a world-class 5G service in India… using 100% home grown technologies and solutions.”
Interestingly, Google’s investment pegged Jio’s equity value at Rs 4.36 lakh crore — lower to the equity valuation assigned by Facebook to the Indian company. Facebook had bought a 9.9% stake at a valuation of Rs 4.62 lakh crore. The investment in Jio by Google and Facebook is a rare case of two ‘FANG’ — Facebook, Apple, Netflix and Google — companies investing in the same unit.
Google investment comes as part of its $10 billion (Rs 75,000 crore) India-focused digitisation fund. “Through the partnership with Jio we see the chance to have an even greater impact than either company could have alone,” said Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai in a video message. Jio investment will be “the first and the biggest” investment Google will make via the $10 billion fund, Pichai added.