Here are my first impressions of the product and the onboarding process.
#1. Scrappy, But Formless, Onboarding
There is no Jio store.
All leading telecom companies in India like Airtel, Idea and Vodafone have a retail presence. But not Jio – at least no stores I could spot. Existing Reliance Web World outlets belong to a different side of India’s largest business conglomerate and don’t sell Jio products (in fact they compete with Reliance Jio). If you thought Jio has gone totally online, that’s not correct. You do have to visit a store to sign up for Jio and pick up the SIM card. Just that it’s the store of Reliance Digital, which is a leading electronics goods retailer. While this is mentioned on the Jio website, many people have missed it. I know some diehard Reliance fans who, when they didn’t spot any Jio stores, thought that Jio hadn’t yet launched in their city.
Jio’s presence inside the Reliance Digital store – at least the one that I visited in a nearby mall – is totally makeshift. One table, one chair and one attendant wielding a smartphone – that just about describes Jio’s entire retail presence. Scrappy to say the least.
I first bought the JioFi WiFi Router from the mobile section of the store and then went over to the Jio section, where I was asked to join a queue. While the length of the queue wasn’t daunting – there were fewer than 20 people on it – it moved at a snail’s pace. It took me three hours to reach the said table. After that, the transaction got over in a few minutes, I received the SIM card and walked out of the store.
Most notable feature of Jio’s onboarding process is that it’s totally formless – no form to fill online or on paper. You show your Aadhaar Card to the attendant who enters the Aadhaar number into a mobile app and asks you to place your finger on a fingerprint reader. If all works well – which, in my case, it did only on the third attempt – your identity and address are both verified online within a few seconds.
This is my first experience of buying a product / service of this nature without paper, form or wet ink signature – in India or anywhere else in the world.
For that alone, Reliance Jio deserves major props.
#2. 12 Hour Activation
I noted that Jio didn’t talk about doing any feasibility testing of 4G strength at my address before selling its product. This was a bit surprising because another leading MNO had earlier conducted a feasibility test at my home and refused to sell its 4G broadband product since the distance to the nearest cell tower exceeded its upper limit. In fact, I kept my fingers crossed, wondering if Jio 4G would have enough signal strength at my home.
After reaching home, I installed the SIM card into the router and powered it on. A few seconds later, the LED display flashed “No 4G”. I thought my worst fears had come true. I anyway went ahead and called the given 1800 telephone number for televerification, as advised by the guy at the store.
— S.Ketharaman (@s_ketharaman) September 12, 2016
The CSR who attended the call told me that, by submitting my fingerprint and Aadhaar number at the store, I’d already fulfilled the verification. He assured me that I didn’t need to do anything more and that my connection would get activated within 24 hours.
Well, it actually happened in half that time. By the time I woke up the next morning, the router was flashing the “Jio 4G” symbol, which was confirmation that the activation had gone through successfully.
I was now the proud owner of a 4G connection!
JioFi gives a speed of 13 Mbps, being 11Mbps download speed and 2 Mbps upload speed (see update in follow-on post). This is the fastest Internet connection I’ve ever used – either in India or abroad. In contrast, my other Internet connections give a speed of 3-4Mbps on a good day.
I noticed that the JioFi connection broke quite frequently. I shifted the router to another room in my house. The connection quality improved substantially. I won’t blame Jio for this because, nowadays, even voice quality fluctuates a lot when I move my smartphone by just a few feet. Besides, as a technology, 4G is known to be more sensitive to line of sight and obstacles compared to 3G.
#4. Voice Over IP
Mukesh Ambani, the Chairman of Reliance Jio Infocomm, the maker of JioFi, announced at the launch event last week that Jio will offer free voice calls forever. While this is a disruptive move, I didn’t pay too much heed to it since I was only planning to buy the JioFi WiFi router. Going by my experience of using a competing product for the last two years, I thought voice was only applicable on a Jio mobile phone connection, which I wasn’t planning on buying.
When the Reliance Digital store attendant was giving me a quick demo of how to set up the router, he made a passing remark that I had to download and install a certain Jio app if I wanted to make voice calls. I reminded him I wasn’t planning to use a Jio SIM on my mobile phone. He assured me that I could make voice calls from my phone as long as it was connected to the Internet via JioFi. This is when I realized that, when Jio says voice, it must actually be meaning Voice over IP (VoIP) i.e. voice is transmitted via data packets over the Internet.
We use VoIP to make overseas calls in our outbound marketing campaigns since regular phone tariffs to USA and UK being exorbitant. From this working knowledge of the technology, I know that VoIP calls guzzle data.
I began wondering if voice would really be free as announced by the company’s chairman or it would be charged indirectly via accelerated consumption of data. I raised this point with the attendant at the store but he didn’t know what VoIP meant. I subsequently tweeted Jio.
@reliancejio Is "voice" on your network actually VoIP? If so, any idea how many MB of data is consumed in a 5 min. voice conversation?
— S.Ketharaman (@s_ketharaman) September 10, 2016
I’ll update this post if I hear from the company.
Interestingly, Skype, another VoIP service, does not permit voice calls within India. I don’t know how JioFi does.
#5. Rushed Launch
Jio has been delayed by a year. In spite of that, I got the feeling that its last week’s launch was a rushed affair for several reasons:
- Jio has a highly makeshift presence inside Reliance Digital stores, as though it was established in the eleventh hour. Like mom-and-pop stores, and unlike organized retail stores, Jio was closed for lunch for nearly two hours!
- The SIM card pack shows tariffs for voice and data e.g. 2p/sec for Local & National calls! This contradicts Mukesh Ambani’s announcement that Jio will provide free voice calls for lifetime
- When I attempted the televerification, I was asked to enter a Jio Number. I didn’t have a clue about it. The CSR who attended the call told me that it was a 10-digit number beginning with “70”. By chance I noticed such a number on the SIM card packet. It was scrawled in hand by the store attendant, who never told me about it. Since he’d overwritten the second last digit, I still don’t know whether my Jio # ends with 49 or 69 or 99.
- When I told the store attendant that I was interested in signing up for the INR 999 / 20GB plan, he raised his eyebrows and told me that he hadn’t heard of such a plan!
While Jio’s tariff table can be found on its website, blogs and news sites, apparently the stores have not been informed about it. They’ve been told to simply sign up everyone for the one and only one plan available at this point, namely, “Free 4G unlimited”, valid until 31 December 2016.
So that’s what I signed up for. While I paid for the router, all my data consumption will be free until the end of the year.
I’m curious to know what would happen come next year when the free benefits would end. At the time, consumers interested in continuing with Jio will need to select a paid plan. I wonder if Reliance Jio would subject customers to a few more steps at that stage viz. credit check for postpaid connections. As things stand, I can’t help feeling that the current formless, signatureless onboarding process has been made possible only because it has no commercial implication. Therefore, while I’m giving the onboarding process a 4-star rating now, I might reduce it to a 3-star if Reliance Jio introduces additional friction to onboard consumers that want to continue with its service beyond 31 December 2016.
It’s still early days but, based on my first 48 hours of using JioFi, I’d give the product a 5-star rating.