An American giant may have caught the attention of Reliance Jio, a three and a half-year old subsidiary of India's most coveted firm Reliance Industries: Facebook.
According to a story in the Financial Times, Facebook reportedly acquired 10 per cent of the Indian telco during talks with Reliance Jio. This 10 per cent interest was priced in billions of dollars, according to the report. The news also noted that Reliance Jio, besides the social media giant, was also in separate negotiations with Google.
Google's Alphabet Inc. also had talks about a stake, the newspaper reported, citing one person briefed on the negotiations. The paper has not been identifying any of its sources. The transaction, which was expected to be revealed later this month, was part of plans to reduce debt for the parent company Reliance Industries Ltd., the Financial Times said.
Representatives for Reliance and Google were not responding to requests for comment from the newspaper. A Facebook spokesperson for Menlo Park, California, declined to comment.
Bernstein analysts estimate Jio to be valued at over $60 billion. Mukesh Ambani, India's richest man heading Reliance Industries, has over the years pumped over $25 billion into Reliance Jio.
Reliance Jio soft launched in 2015, but began public operations in 2016. With more than 370 million subscribers, it has become India's largest telecom operator in just three years, causing a massive market revolution, providing free calls and relatively cheap data, which has continued to have enduring effects on the telecom industry to this day.
Jio could represent a gateway into India for companies like Facebook and also into a market with complex regulatory challenges - something that a major local player like Reliance has a greater degree of insight into.
Reliance, part of the family of billionaire Mukesh Ambani, has said it plans to minimize net debt by 2021 to zero. It invested nearly $50 billion to create Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd., which quickly became India's largest wireless carrier since its launch by rolling out rates that undercut its competitors.
It is estimated that Facebook's core services have more than 300 million Indian users, and WhatsApp, which is commonly used as a short messaging service replacement in India, has registered more than 400 million users in India.
With Jio also launching a slew of digital content, payments, and e-commerce services, Facebook will have many options to integrate its services. The business could also strike deals with Jio to get their devices pre-installed on Jio-sold phones and not count against data buckets, granting regulators did not oppose.