Link to home page
Link to home

News from the open internet


The little 5G devices powering India’s streaming revolution

A hand hovers over fabric holding a block print of a wifi symbol. The fabric has a wifi symbol printed pattern.

Illustration by Robyn Phelps / Getty / The Current

As American streaming giants settle into a formula of ad-funded plans and live sports rights, it appears that their battle for dominance may be inching toward a stalemate.

Not so in India.

JioCinema’s recent launch of a $0.35 a month premium tier, which undercuts Netflix and Amazon’s respective $2.40 and $3.60 offerings, will only add fuel to the country’s streaming wars. Notably, JioCinema’s plan will still include ads on its Indian Premier League cricket games – a key driver of viewership in the country.

But beneath the price-cutting and flashy rights deals, a lesser-known infrastructure innovation is adding to the fast take-up of streaming services.

Fixed wireless access (FWA) devices are becoming increasingly popular in the country. These gadgets, about the size of a little Wi-Fi router coupled with a small outdoor unit, deliver 5G-fast internet without the need for laying fiber-optic cables or copper wires. For people living in India’s smaller towns and rural areas, it’s a game changer.

“As soon as JioAirFiber got launched, we are seeing demand getting unlocked from the tier 3 or tier 4 towns and rural markets,” Reliance Jio Infocomm President Kiran Tomas said in an earnings call.

The fact that plans like JioAirFiber’s cost just over $7 per month means that, in the words of Reliance Chairman Mukesh Ambani, “every city, town and village… is now equipped with high-speed digital connectivity, which will usher in a new era of unparalleled digital accessibility and technology-led growth.”

Why it matters

The spread of 5G FWA devices will give streaming advertisers expanded access to one of the world’s most coveted consumer markets, as millions of households gain the means to stream high-quality content.

With India projected to become the world’s third largest economy by 2030, “this [economic] growth has fueled the rise of a large and aspirational middle class, which is driving the demand for quality online content and services,” says Harsha Razdan, CEO, South Asia at Dentsu.

Now, thanks to the increasing popularity of 5G FWA devices, “these two factors have created a perfect storm for ad-supported streaming in India,” says Razdan.

Who’s who

For Reliance and its media arm Viacom18, this could mean even more domination of the Indian streaming market. The conglomerate bought out Paramount’s stake in Viacom18, parent company of JioCinema, and is set to merge Viacom18 with Disney’s Star India.

But this also opens the door for other streaming providers to reach more segments of the Indian population, from Netflix and Prime Video to local players like Sun NXT, Eros Now, and Zee5.

“India has long been seen as a potential difference maker in the streaming wars, given its immense population,” says Brandon Katz, entertainment industry strategist at Parrot Analytics.

He points out that Amazon has invested in original content tailored for India’s different languages and cultures, and that Netflix has become one of the first ports of call for many of India’s biggest movies.

The big picture

The growth of ad-supported streaming, for both consumers and advertisers, comes at a pivotal time in the history of Indian entertainment.

“We are witnessing a new chapter in the story of India, where streaming platforms are revolutionizing the way we consume and create content,” says Razdan.

As in other countries, advertisers in India have embraced ad-supported streaming for its precision, real-time measurement capabilities, and flexibility of formats, says Razdan. But that’s not the whole story.

“India is a nation of storytellers and story-lovers. We have a rich and diverse heritage of narratives, from ancient epics to modern cinema,” says Razdan. For viewers, the rise of 5G FWA devices is “a game changer,” he adds. It also helps that services like JioAirFiber come bundled with streaming services.

“India is a price-sensitive market, where consumers are always looking for the best value for their money,” says Razdan. “This makes ad-supported streaming more accessible and inclusive, reaching a wider and more diverse audience across the country.”

What’s next

For 5G FWA devices, there is still room to grow.

According to a February report, one in three Indian households say they are unaware of the benefits of FWA, while three in 10 say they know about FWA but not about FWA providers.

As more Indian streaming viewers come online, live sports, and cricket in particular, are becoming the deciding factor behind subscriptions.

“IPL is going to be the catalyst for JioCinema,” Kiran Mani, CEO of Viacom18’s digital division, told Bloomberg. “People accessed sports via 120 million screens in India three years ago. This year, India will cross 500 million screens.”

Whether JioCinema’s price-cutting play will help it corner the market, remains to be seen. It’s a battle royale for India’s viewership. For now, marketers intent on reaching one of the world’s largest consumer markets can count on some mighty little devices reshaping the viewing habits of the subcontinent.