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Google promises another low-end Android effort as it buys into Indian mega-carrier Jio Platforms

$4.5bn splash turns out to be first installment in $10bn ‘Digitisation fund’ and development template for new products

Google has revealed that $4.5bn of the $10bn “Indian digitisation fund” it revealed on Tuesday will go towards an investment in mobile carrier Jio Platforms.

The Chocolate Factory therefore joins Facebook, Silver Lake, Vista Equity Partners, Qualcomm Ventures, Intel, plus sovereign wealth funds as an investor in the carrier, which boasts over 380 million subscribers and is on a mission to build all manner of digital services for Indians.

Google’s 7.7 per cent stake is second only to Facebook’s 9.99 per cent slice and means Jio’s parent company Reliance has offloaded nearly a third of the carrier and hauled in around $20bn of cash.

Accompanying the investment is a deal that Google said will see it and Jio “jointly develop an entry-level affordable smartphone with optimizations to the Android operating system and the Play Store.”

But the deal doesn’t appear to be exclusive.

“We want to work with Jio and other leaders in the local ecosystem to ensure that smartphones—together with the apps and services in the Play Store—are within reach for many more Indians across the country,” wrote Google India’s country head and veep Sanjay Gupta, together with veep for product management Sameer Samat. The pair added that whatever Google and Jio cook up could become a template for other nations, writing “And we believe the pace of Indian innovation means that the experiences we create for India can ultimately be expanded to the rest of the world.”

There’s no word on what this means for Jio’s own range of smartphones and feature phones. Nor is there news of how the new device will impact Android One, the slightly-simplified version of Android that Google launched in 2014 to bring low-cost smartphones to India. Android One is currently alive and well and Google promotes a decent range of handsets running the OS.

India does not lack for budget smartphone options, so this alliance could be more about making sure Google has a play with Jio’s colossal user base than its interest in advancing digital India. And Google needs that play because Facebook’s Jio Platforms investment appears to have making WhatsApp-enabled payments and e-commerce a big part of the Jio experience.

India is a nation that does not look back fondly on its colonial era, yet now seems poised to have Facebook and Google take strong positions in its emerging digital economy.

Another arm of the Jio empire, Jio Infocomm, is tied up with Microsoft for a 10-year Azure alliance. If another arm of Jio starts working with Amazon, it will have the full set of digital dominators on its team.

Google is yet to spell out where the remainder of its digitisation fund will be spent. ®

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