In a bid that has the potential to bring millions of users out of the realm of legacy 2G&3G and into the digital age, Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance-owned Jio has introduced ‘Jio Bharat’, a $12 mobile handset and accompanying tariff plans. Priced at a pocket-friendly ₹999 ($12.2), the Jio Bharat aims to provide 4G connectivity and a range of modern features, including mobile payment capabilities and access to Jio’s streaming services. With this strategic move, Reliance seeks to bridge the digital divide in India, empowering users who have been deterred by the high costs of transitioning to 4G. Jio Bharat will be manufactured by the company, and it will also team up with other phonemakers to adopt the Jio Bharat Platform to build the handsets.

In a press release, Jio Platforms revealed that it intends to use the Jio Bharat to ensure that the 250 million feature phone users in the country have access to the internet on their devices, and will commence the trial for the first million Jio Bharat phones from July 7. The beta trial will be carried out across 6,500 tehsils and will aim to ensure the scalability of the platform, as well as the processes for upgrading “millions of feature phone users.”

Designed to cater to the 250 million Indian consumers who have found the transition to 4G networks prohibitively expensive, the Jio Bharat handset is shaping up to be a catch. Not only is it the lowest entry price for an internet-enabled phone, but its features and capabilities complement the handset. The device is set to come with mobile payments capabilities with UPI, as well as access to Jio’s JioCinema and JioSaavn, as well as more pocket-friendly monthly plans that provide high-quality and greater amounts of data.

Coming to the plans, the company notes that the new monthly plan will cost just ₹123 (or $1.5) to offer 14GB of data usage for the month and unlimited voice calls. In contrast, monthly plans offered by other operators cost ₹179 to provide 2GB of data. Jio Platforms notes that its monthly plan is 30% cheaper, while offering seven times more data. For those subscribing for the year, the plan costs ₹1,234 (or $15), and users will get 168GB of data usage.

Reliance’s entry into the affordable 4G market has significant implications for the Indian telecom sector. The Jio Bharat allows for a broader adoption of affordable 4G devices, which could disrupt the market and provide consumers with more accessible alternatives to expensive 4G smartphones. It is also likely that it will enjoy a greater degree of success than the JioPhone Next – Reliance’s maiden smartphone, one that was created with a collaboration with Google.

“There are still 250 million mobile phone users in India who remain ‘trapped’ in the 2G era, unable to tap into basic features of the internet at a time when the world stands at the cusp of a 5G revolution. Six years ago, when Jio was launched, we made it clear that Jio will leave no stone unturned to democratize internet and pass the benefits of technology to every Indian. The new Jio Bharat phone is another step in that direction,” Akash Ambani, Chairman, Reliance Jio, said.

By creating an ecosystem of compatible devices, Reliance aims to drive widespread adoption of 4G technology and accelerate digital inclusion in India, thereby bridging the digital divide. It also aligns with the Indian government’s vision of a digital India and supports the government’s efforts to ensure access to digital services for all citizens by providing affordable connectivity and essential services like mobile payments and digital content. “It is at the centre of innovation, and it continues to demonstrate our focus on bringing disproportionate and true value for different segments of users with meaningful, real-life use cases,” Ambani added.