Qualcomm has become the newest high-profile backer of four-year-old Reliance Jio Platforms, which has raised more than $15.7 billion in the past 12 weeks from as many investors.
On Sunday evening, Qualcomm Ventures said it will invest $97 million in Reliance Jio Platforms to acquire a 0.15% equity stake “on a fully diluted basis” in the top Indian telecom operator. Qualcomm said it will help Jio Platforms “roll out advanced 5G infrastructure and services for Indian customers.”
Reliance Jio Platforms, which competes with Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea in India, has disrupted the Indian telecommunications market by offering cut-rate voice and data plans. It has amassed nearly 400 million subscribers to become the top carrier in the world’s second largest internet market in less than four years of its existence.
Its dominance in the Indian telecom operator sector while maintaining an ARPU (average revenue per user) that match those of its rivals has made Reliance Jio Platforms — a subsidiary of Reliance Industries, India’s most valued firm — an attractive firm for a roster of high-profile investors. Facebook, Silver Lake, General Atlantic and Intel are some of the firms that have backed Jio Platforms at the height of a global pandemic. Jio Platforms has sold a 25.24% stake in the firm during the period.
The digital unit for Reliance Industries also operates a number of digital services, including streaming services for music, live TV channels and movies and TV shows. Earlier this month, the Indian firm added a new service to its arsenal: A video conferencing service.
Steve Mollenkopf, chief executive of Qualcomm, said the firm believes that Reliance Jio Platforms “will deliver a new set of services and experiences to Indian consumers” in the future.
“With unmatched speeds and emerging use cases, 5G is expected to transform every industry in the coming years. Jio Platforms has led the digital revolution in India through its extensive digital and technological capabilities. As an enabler and investor with a longstanding presence in India, we look forward to playing a role in Jio’s vision to further revolutionize India’s digital economy,” he said in a statement.
Some investors have told TechCrunch in recent months that Reliance Jio Platforms’ owner — India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani — and his closeness to the ruling political party in India are also crucial to why the digital unit of Reliance Industries is so attractive to many.
They believe that buying a stake in Jio Platforms would lower the regulatory burden they currently face in India. The investors requested anonymity as they did not wish to talk about the political tie ups publicly.
A person familiar with the matter at one of the 12 firms that has backed Reliance Jio Platforms said that the Indian firm is also enticing as globally companies are trying to cut down their reliance and exposure on China.
India, and the U.S., in recent months have taken actions to limit their reliance on Chinese firms. New Delhi last month banned 59 apps and services including TikTok that are developed by Chinese firms. Reliance Jio Platforms has interestingly yet to raise capital from any Chinese investor.
“Qualcomm has been a valued partner for several years and we have a shared vision of connecting everything by building a robust and secure wireless and digital network and extending the benefits of digital connectivity to everyone in India,” said Ambani in a statement Sunday.