The Indian riches man, business tycoon who punched his way into the country’s mobile phone industry by starting a carrier with free services took another swing at rivals, unveiling a cheap feature phone with access to unlimited data. Competitors’ shares plunged.
“The wireless unit of billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s retail-to-refining conglomerate will offer a data-enabled feature phone for 1,500 rupees ($23) starting Aug. 15, he told shareholders in Mumbai on Friday. The Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. handset, or JioPhone, will come with tariff plans as low as 23 rupees for two days or 153 rupees monthly.
Bharti Airtel Ltd., India’s largest operator, closed 2 percent lower in Mumbai. Idea Cellular Ltd., which has agreed to merge with Vodafone Group Plc’s local unit to create the No. 1 carrier, sank 3.3 percent. Bharti Airtel and Idea didn’t immediately respond to email seeking comments. Reliance’s shares advanced 3.7 percent, outstripping the 0.4 percent rise in the S&P BSE Sensex.
“Voice will always be free on the JioPhone,” Ambani said at a shareholders’ meeting in Mumbai. “Jio will give users access to unlimited data on the JioPhone.” The data access will start Aug. 15, he said.
The move by Ambani, India’s richest person, opens a new front in a price war that is already prompting consolidation within a debt-strapped industry that includes 11 carriers. Rivals have cried foul against Jio’s tactics and have blamed widening losses on the new entrant.”