MUMBAI: India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani announced on Thursday that his Reliance Industries’ long-awaited 4G mobile services would finally launch this month, sending shares of rival Bharti Airtel plummeting almost seven percent.
Ambani told shareholders at the Mumbai-based company’s annual general meeting that the multi-billion-dollar telecommunications network, called Reliance Jio Infocomm, would be rolled out from September 5 following repeated delays.
The Reliance Industries chairman said it would cover 90 percent of India’s 1.25 billion population by March 2017.
The launch has been hotly anticipated in India whose notoriously patchy mobile network is known for bad reception and irregular pricing structures.
Stocks in Bharti Airtel, which has already launched 4G, slumped 6.83 percent on the Bombay Stock Exchange in late morning trade after the announcement.
“We can transform India from a high price data market to one with the lowest data rates anywhere in the world,” said Ambani, promising cheaper tariffs and free calls within India and no roaming charges.
Reliance Industries has spent billions of dollars purchasing wireless spectrum at auction from the government in recent years as it looks to dominate India’s cut-throat mobile market of an estimated 952 million users.
It was initially due to offer 4G mobile services from the end of 2015 but pushed the date back several times without explaining why, as Bharti Airtel snapped up millions of customers.
Market leader Bharti Airtel cut its prices for mobile data services earlier this week ahead of Reliance’s AGM in a bid to stop users switching to Jio in coming months.
But experts believe the estimated $15-billion Jio launch will be a game-changer for the Ambani-led Reliance group.
Reliance derives most of its earnings from its massive energy operations and is trying to diversify its business.
Billionaire industrialist Ambani said Jio’s tariff plans would start from around 150 rupees a month ($2.24) and would cost up to 5000 rupees for high-speed data services.
Reliance investors appeared unimpressed by the announcement with shares slipping 0.90 percent.