© Reuters. Mukesh Ambani, Chairman and Managing Director of Reliance Industries, attends the company's annual general meeting in Mumbai
By Promit Mukherjee and Alexandra Ulmer
MUMBAI (Reuters) – Reliance Industries said it would launch super-fast internet in India next month, stressing that partnerships would be its path to growth as it announced a tie up with Microsoft and a stake sale in its oil unit to Saudi Aramco.
The group's plans to launch fibre broadband is likely to worry rivals who are struggling to keep up with Jio, billionaire Chairman Mukesh Ambani's telco upstart, which has upended the market with its cheap data plans and become India's top mobile operator by subscribers in just three years.
The tech push and the planned stake sale comes as Reliance – India's second-biggest company by market value – looks to bolster its consumer businesses and diversify from its core oil and petrochemicals operations.
The cloud services partnership with Microsoft Corp (NASDAQ:) underscores Ambani's ambitions to go toe-to-toe with Amazon (NASDAQ:), which offers cloud services in India and is also one of the country's biggest online retailers.
"We have received strong interest from strategic and financial investors in our consumer businesses, Jio and Reliance Retail," Ambani said in a statement for the company's annual general meeting on Monday.
"We will induct leading global partners in these businesses in the next few quarters, and move towards listing of both these companies within the next five years," he said.
The consumer-facing businesses collectively contribute nearly a third of the company's consolidated EBITDA, Ambani said. Five years ago they contributed just 2% and Ambani expects them to account for 50% soon.
Ambani was joined by Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella via video conferencing for the AGM being held on a public and stock exchange holiday in India and many countries.
Microsoft and Jio will launch cloud data centres in India, the two executives said. Jio will provide free cloud services for startups for as little as 1,500 rupees ($21) a month, which Ambani said was less than one-tenth of global rates.
"The strategy continues to be to grab a lion's share of the market … by integrating several channels of entertainment and communication," said Hemant Joshi, a technology, media and telecom consultant at Deloitte.
"They seem to be doing once again here in broadband what they have done earlier in telecom," he said.
Jio, which has over 340 million subscribers, said its GigaFiber broadband services will include access to television channels, fixed-line telephone calling and video conferencing with prices starting at 700 rupees per month.
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