Tech giant Facebook could soon be a sizeable shareholder in Mukesh Ambani’s digital operations venture Reliance Jio, according to a report from Financial Times (paywalled). The California-based social media behemoth is in talks to acquire a multi-billion dollar stake in the telecom company, according to two people privy to the matter. The deal, if it goes through, would mark a major breakthrough for Facebook, which has been looking to expand its digital footprint across the country for a while now.
India is a fast-growing market today. Every major tech company is looking to invest given the exponential growth in the telecom user base in the country. India had a user base of 450 Million in 2017, and that number is slated to see a steep rise to 850 Million by 2020-end. Hence, the country presents an optimum set of conditions for any company to invest in.
According to the FT report, Facebook was close to acquiring a 10% stake in Reliance Jio, only for the negotiations to be put on halt due to the COVID-19 outbreak and resultant travel bans. The California giant isn’t the only company looking to foray into the digital space in India though. Google has also been reported to have had discussions with the Indian telecom giant as has been Microsoft. Microsoft looked a strong contender, more so due to its recent cloud computing partnership with Jio. But the deal didn’t seem to have materialized.
The latest reports come at a time when Jio parent Reliance Industries, is looking to cut its net debt, which had swollen after the company ventured in telecom space with Jio. Jio, even before its launch, announced a ton of freebies as it looked to lure subscribers from other networks, which it eventually did. The company has a subscriber base of 370 Million as of today, the largest in the country. Reliance had also recently sold a 20% stake in its oil refining unit to Saudi Aramco while acquiring a $3.3 Billion investment from Brookfield in its tower business. The social media giant has posted impressive numbers of its own in India as well, recording around 313 Million users in the country by the end of 2019. The number is set to rise to 445 Million by 2023. Facebook had crossed about 2 Billion users halfway last year, with India constituting the highest number of users, standing at 241 Million or 11% of the total user base.
The going in India’s digital space hasn’t been a cakewalk for Facebook though, with the tech giant coming at loggerheads with India’s telecom operators a few years back over its “internet for everyone” initiative.