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Bridging the gap: Jio may get a lighter Whatsapp tailored for 4G feature phone

4G VoLTE feature phone is priced at Rs 0 with a 3-year refundable deposit of Rs 1,500

BS Web Team  |  New Delhi 

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WhatsApp is reportedly working on a light-mode version of the messaging application for Mukesh Ambani’s ultra-affordable 4G VoLTE feature phone, which will make its debut in September.

The phone, priced at Rs 0 with a 3-year refundable deposit of Rs 1,500, comes loaded with several Jio Apps and dirt cheap data plans. It supports and YouTube as well. However, WhatsApp, which is a big draw for Indian phone users, does not have a version that works on the phone, which reportedly runs on KaiOS, a forked version of the Firefox operating system.

According to a Factor Daily report, Reliance Jio is in talks with Whatsapp to create a version of the messaging service that will work on millions of 4G phones that the former plans to sell.

If the rumoured Whatsapp version comes to JioPhone, it will be the first time when feature phones will incorporate the messaging service that was earlier exclusive to smartphone users.

According to JP Morgan, in India, where there is the prevalence of multi-SIM phones and the pre-paid monthly churn stands at around 5 per cent, it may be unrealistic to expect consumers to embrace single-SIM phones and get locked in for three years with them.

"In all likelihood, if the consumer can afford to pay at least Rs 153/month for three years, she is quite likely a smartphone user well before this three-year period runs out," JP Morgan said in a report.

"How willing would a sub-Rs 200 ARPU (non-smartphone) subscriber be to stay anchored to a 4G feature phone and not gravitate towards a smartphone," it wonders, adding three years seems a long time to expect a subscriber to commit.

Reliance Jio has its own messaging service called JioChat, which can be accessed by its 125 million subscribers. However, WhatsApp is currently used by over 200 million Indians and by bringing the service to JioPhone, it can add another 500 million feature phone users that have been left out of the digital revolution. 

“Even an entry-level smartphone costs between Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,500 making it unaffordable for feature phone users to upgrade to a smartphone,” Ambani said in his speech at the 40th annual general meeting of Reliance Industries.

With Jio’s debut in the Indian market in 2016, the company has attracted several customers through its attractive data and call packs.

Another factor is that Whatsapp has received a UPI license, which allows it to start digital payments. Therefore, the feature phones can introduce the payment system to entry-level users. 

According to a Crisil report published in July, data usage per subscriber has risen over 20-fold in the past five years, especially after the roll out of free services by Reliance Jio. Peak data usage on Reliance Jio was five to six gigabytes (GB) compared to 1.25 GB for the overall industry.

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