Facebook has enjoyed unparalleled reach in India for more than a decade. But as China’s fast-growing ByteDance emerges as a formidable competitor in what has become the world’s second largest internet market, the American giant has found the horse it wants to bet on in the new decade.
Facebook announced today it has invested $5.7 billion in India’s Reliance Jio telecom operator with more than 370 million subscribers. As part of the deal, which valued Jio at pre-money valuation of $65.95 billion, the American firm will now become the largest minority shareholder in Jio, a three-and-a-half-year-old subsidiary of India’s most valued firm Reliance Industries.
The social giant said it will focus on collaborating with Jio to create “new ways for people and businesses to operate more effectively in the growing digital economy.”
David Fischer, Chief Revenue Officer, and Ajit Mohan, VP and Managing Director, India said one example of such collaboration could be bringing together JioMart, Jio’s small business initiative, with the power of WhatsApp. “We can enable people to connect with businesses, shop and ultimately purchase products in a seamless mobile experience,” they said.
Reliance Jio, which began its commercial operation in the second half of 2016, upended the local telecom market by offering bulk of 4G data and free voice calls for six months. The telco kickstarted a price war that forced local network providers Vodafone and Airtel to revise their data plans and mobile tariffs. But they struggled to match the offerings of Jio, which has become the top telecom operator in the country.
Reaching Jio’s users might interest Facebook, which attempted and failed to expand its free internet initiative, Free Basics, in India. (The company has since expanded Express Wi-Fi to India — though its potential and scale remains comparatively small.)
Reliance Jio also owns a suite of services including music streaming service JioSaavn, which it plans to take public, on-demand live television service JioTV and payments service JioPay.
In recent quarters, Facebook has started to take interest in local startups. Last year, the firm made an investment in social commerce Meesho; and last month, it wrote a check to edtech startup Unacademy.
Ajit Mohan, VP and managing director of Facebook India, told TechCrunch in an interview last year that the company was open to engaging with startups that are building solutions for the Indian market for more investing opportunities. “Wherever we believe there is opportunity beyond the work we do today, we are open to exploring further investment deals,” he said.
But for Facebook, there might be one more perk in this deal: Mukesh Ambani. India’s richest man is a close ally of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and his firm has consistently supported policy proposals from the ruling government.

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