Reliance Jio
Tech engineers and entrepreneurs with roots in India have helped build titans of Silicon Valley. Now an Indian technology company says its growth is outpacing such giants as Skype, Whatsapp and Facebook.

The country’s richest man has launched a mobile telecommunications network that signed up more than 50 million subscribers in its first three months, which he said makes it "the fastest growing technology company not only in India, but in the history of the world."

Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Jio service is a symbol of the surging tech market in India, which has more than 1 billion cellphone users but the lowest rate of Internet penetration of any major economy.

It is also a sign of the power of a good deal: Jio is offering mobile data and Internet-based calling within India free of charge for six months. That has forced competitors to reduce their rates and is expected to make mobile data more affordable for Indian consumers, who pay some of the highest prices in the world, in terms of purchasing power, to surf on their smartphones.

That could go a long way toward expanding Internet access in India, where only about one-third of the 1.3 billion people go online regularly.

Poor fixed-line infrastructure means that most use the Internet on their phones — but patchy cellular data networks and electricity shortages in rural areas are barriers to the “digital India” that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has boasted of creating.

With two out of five Indians younger than 20, tech companies see this country as one of the world’s last great sources of new customers. Before Jio’s rollout in September, Facebook, Google, Uber and other U.S. giants had all introduced initiatives targeting Indian consumers — with varying degrees of success.

Ambani is expecting his gamble to pay off: He said he has invested more than US$ 22 billion, which amounts to half his conglomerate’s annual revenues, in building Jio.

"The numbers in India are staggering by any standard," said Arpita Pal Agrawal, a telecommunications industry analyst with Pricewaterhouse Coopers. "Other than China, we are the most ripe nation — from the standpoint of numbers and the age of our population — to go digital."

The company’s launch comes as India grapples with a surprise demonetization initiative in which 86% of the country’s paper currency was banned. The government says the move will curb unregulated cash transactions and boost the use of digital payment methods, which fits right into Jio’s strategy.

Jio advertises high-speed mobile data and voice-over-Internet calls that bypass India’s notoriously unreliable cellular phone networks. Like Google and Apple, it also provides a suite of apps offering on-demand entertainment, digital payments, cloud storage and more.