Why are so many Indians queuing up to get a SIM card?

Manish Singh

Indian telecom operator Reliance Jio has become the talk of the country even before its service becomes commercially available to users. 

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People are lining up in queues outside Reliance Digital stores in shopping malls and other marketplaces across India to get a Jio SIM card. The carrier is testing its services before the commercial launch and is offering users three months of unlimited 4G LTE data, voice calls, text messages and a bunch of other value added services like live streaming of TV channels, movies on demand and music streaming.

Image: Reliance jio

Jio, which is owned by India's largest industrial house Reliance Industries, means truly unlimited when it says it is unlimited usage. Sai Krishna, a 23-year-old tech blogger from Hyderabad, for instance, has used over 350GB of data in about 45 days of getting his Jio connection. Others have experienced their usage remains free even after the completion of the free three month period.

Getting a new Jio connection, however, has not always been easy. Initially, one had to buy a LYF branded smartphone, which was sold by Reliance Digital (a retail chain also owned by Reliance Industries). Those who bought a LYF smartphone were automatically eligible for a Jio connection. Since then Jio has opened it to a bunch of other smartphone vendors including Samsung, LG, Micromax, Asus, Gionee among others. Users of these phones have to download Jio's suite of apps and generate a bar code that they can use to get a new connection.

The Jio "Preview Offer" has brought much cheer to brick and mortar stores in India, which have been at the receiving end of discounts offered by online retailers like Amazon India, Flipkart and Paytm. Most buyers had started checking out the phones at these stores but would buy them online as they got better pricing.  

“Reliance Jio has emerged as a ray of hope for us brick and mortar retailers,” says Vikrant Badhwar, who runs one of New Delhi's largest multi-brand smartphone retail store chains. “It’s driving people to come to physical stores again and purchase Jio-bundled phones.”

Rival carriers like Airtel and Vodafone, which have over 150 million subscribers each are not pleased with Jio's modus operandi. The carriers, via lobbying body COAI, have alleged that Jio is launching commercial operations in the garb of testing. They claim Jio already has over 2.5 million users and are hurting their operations. 

COAI also claims that the so-called testing phase has been causing a loss of revenue for the Indian government. Carriers are, by law, required to pay the government a fixed percentage of their revenues as fee. However, COAI alleges that Jio is routing the revenues to LYF and hence not paying anything to the government.

Jio has been expected to launch its 4G LTE services for the last two years but the date has been pushed multiple times. The commercial roll out was expected to take place on August 15 earlier this month, coinciding with India's independence day, but that didn't happen either.

But judging from the queues, it seems Jio is in no hurry right now.