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Monday, 21 August 2017

Reliance JioPhone: Breaking all myths about pre-bookings, registering interest and market availability

The JioPhone launch is close. As per the schedule announced by Reliance earlier for its free JioPhone, which will support the 4G network, will be available to consumers in September. Ahead of the availability, the company has started the beta testing of the JioPhone with Jio 4G network from August 15. This is according to the schedule the company had earlier announced. For now though, the beta-testing is limited to handful of select users. At the same time, the company is preparing to pen pre-registration for the JioPhone from August 24.     
Contrary to some reports, offline retailers in the Delhi-NCR region have not started taking early pre-orders for Reliance Industries Limited's much ambitious JioPhone. Pre-orders or pre-bookings for RIL's 4G LTE (and VoLTE-ready) feature phone, that effectively costs zero, will begin as per schedule from August 24. This pre-registration will allow people to purchase the phone when it becomes available. The JioPhone will be available only on first come, first served basis from September.
There are media reports that some offline retailers have already started taking pre-bookings for the JioPhone (even though the official pre-booking date for the phone as per RIL's announcement is on and after Aug 24). The reports even suggest that those who pre-book the phone -- by submitting a copy of their Aadhaar card -- from the select retailers who are offering an early pre-booking option right now will get the phone between September 1 and September 4. Well, none of that is happening right now. Not, at least in the official stores associated with Reliance Jio. 

Pre-booking the JioPhone

India Today Tech reached out to Jio and while we are yet to receive a formal statement, sources have confirmed to us that pre-bookings for the JioPhone will start -- and haven't started -- as per schedule that is from August 245. India Today Tech also reached out to two independent Jio stores -- one in South Delhi and another in Noida -- and got the same response.
Beta testing for the JioPhone has begun (from August 15) wherein the company will be offering select employees and partners an early access to the device for testing and feedback purposes. For regular users, the phone will be available for pre-booking from Aug 24
On the basis of our conversation, India Today Tech has learnt that there's no way that retailers can start taking pre-bookings for the JioPhone before August 24. Although if stores are going out of their way and keeping the details of people interested in the JioPhone in a personal notebook, that is a possibility. But this is not something that Jio is (or will) officially support.
Also there isn't any confirmed timeline when the phone will be available for buying (all we know is Jio will ship the phone sometime in September), one of the retailers we reached out to did say that an estimated time-frame could be the first week of September. So even if some retailers are indeed jumping the gun, it is probably to generate hype.

Registering interest & availability    

All that the company is doing right now is registering consumer interest (on both online and offline channels) and that's about it. This is different from pre-registration. The company, in fact, started doing this as early as a couple of days after its 40th Annual General Meeting in Mumbai. Registering your interest -- which is essentially a fancier terminology for keep you posted -- can be done both online as well as offline.
Registering your interest online:
-- Visit the company's official website -
-- Click on the "Keep me posted" option displayed on the "Introducing India Ka Smartphone JioPhone" banner on the homepage.
-- Fill the form with all your personal details - name, contact number, email ID, and Pin code.
-- Check in to the terms and condition option.
-- Click on submit.
Once you've click on the submit option, the page will display "Thank you for registering interest!" You will soon receive an email stating "Greetings from Jio! Thank you for your interest. We have received your details and our team will contact you shortly. Thank You, Team Jio."
Registering your interest offline:
-- SMS JP <Area Pin Code> Store Code to 7021170211
Where Store code will be the dedicated code for your nearest Jio store.
Soon after, you will receive the following message from Jio "Thank you for your interest in JioPhone. We will keep you informed as soon as we start our pre-bookings."
In either of the cases -- online or offline -- you're not required to furnish your Aadhaar card details. Not right now. This will be required only at the time of pre-booking and/or later when you actually receive your purchased JioPhone. Although not explicitly announced by RIL, one of the retailers confirmed to India Today Tech that those who register interest before August 24 will be given preference while pre-booking. Moreover, they will also be among the first batch of consumers to get their hands on a JioPhone as and when it hits the shelves. Note that RIL has already confirmed that the JioPhone will be available only on first come, first served basis which also invariably means that only limited units of the JioPhone will be initially available for buying. The company will be looking to churn out 5 million (50 lakh) JioPhones every week in the days to come and in the final quarter of this year, all these phones will be made in India.
In the meantime, beta testing for the JioPhone has started from August 15. This is very similar to how RIL handed over free Jio 4G SIM cards to users -- before going live with its 4G services -- last year, but while its SIM cards were available to a broader audience, chances are the JioPhone may have a very limited availability via beta channels.
This means not a whole lot of people would get early access to the JioPhone like Jio SIM cards. Having sad that, because there's very little gap between start of beta testing and pre-booking, those looking to grab a JioPhone may not have to wait much longer. Moreover, because JioPhones being handed over to beta testers would be in beta or in prototype stage chances are not every feature that the company announced at its AGM may work out-of-the-box. Based on feedback, RIL will be looking to iron out any existing kinks in its armor before going commando with the JioPhone in September. 

Decoding the JioPhone

The JioPhone is a feature phone, but, it is smarter than other feature phones in the market right now. For one, it is 4G LTE and VoLTE-ready which means that it has the capability to become a user's full-fledged internet device, much like a smartphone. Jio, being a 4G-only network, requires such a phone, after all.
Although the company has remained tight-lipped about the hardware (and software) inside the JioPhone, Qualcomm and Spreadtrum have independently confirmed that RIL's 4G capable feature phone will have two versions. While one batch will be powered by a Snapdragon 205 SoC, a processor Qualcomm has made specifically for ultra-affordable 4G VoLTE phones, the other batch will come with an unspecified Spreadtrum-based processor on the inside. The software inside may be a custom fork of Firefox OS -- that is KaiOS -- with features like voice search/virtual assistant built-in.
The JioPhone may technically, or effectively, be available for free, but there's a catch, although whether that is good or bad will be completely subjective
The JioPhone has an all-plastic body with a T9 keypad on-board and support for as many as 22 Indian languages.The home button in the center will serve as a dedicated shortcut for firing up the voice assistant as well. It will come with a 2.4-inch QVGA colour screen and NFC support for secure mobile payments. The phone will also come with expandable memory. But, what's most important for the majority of potential buyers out there is the fact that they will be able to browse the Internet and make video calls using the JioPhone.

Is it free, or is it not?

Reliance Jio plans to cover 99 per cent of India's population in the coming years, and it plans on doing that by opening as many as 10,000 offices and 10 lakh outlets for physical distribution of its services, including devices like the JioPhone. "It took 25 years for competitors to build their 2G network, but, Jio will achieve its targeted 4G reach in just 3 years," Mukesh Ambani had said while announcing the JioPhone.
The company initially set out to grab customer base by offering cheap Lyf-branded smartphones, offering data and voice calling for free. Since then, it has gone on to (also) charge its customers, and a "majority of free subscribers have migrated to paid subscription with 100 million paying customers now," according to the company.
But while the Lyf smartphones can be used in isolation with other SIM cards, the JioPhone will not be sold in isolation. The JioPhone is a contract-based phone that will be bundled with a Jio plan. This is why the JioPhone is a single-SIM phone that will be locked to Jio for all intents and purposes. Rumour has it that RIL may launch a dual-SIM variant of the JioPhone at some point of time, but then, they are just rumours. Besides, even if the JioPhone were to support two SIM cards at some point of time, chances are it would still be locked to Jio at least for primary requirements.
The company has, for the time being, launched a special Rs 153 plan to go along with the JioPhone that will offer free voice and SMS, unlimited data -- with an FUP of 0.5GB per day -- and subscription for Jio apps like Jio Music, Jio Cinema, Jio TV and others. The biggest deal about the JioPhone is the fact that it will support most Jio apps -- and also apps like Facebook with the company said to be working on a JioPhone version of WhatsApp as well -- just like a smartphone, and it will be able to run these apps at 4G speeds.
Also, the company has launched a new accessory -- JioPhone TV cable -- to mirror a user's Jio phone content on a TV at Rs 309 per month.
The JioPhone may technically or effectively be available for free, but there's a catch, although whether that is good or bad will be completely subjective. Buyers will have to shell out a one time refundable security deposit of Rs 1,500 which will be refundable only after a period of 36 months. Also, buyers will have to choose a plan to go along with Jio's new feature phone.

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