Jan
18
2021
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Salesforce leads $15M investment in Asian HR tech platform Darwinbox

Darwinbox, which operates a cloud-based human resource management platform, has raised $15 million in a new financing round as the Indian startup looks to further expand in the country and Southeast Asian markets.

The new round — a Series C — for the Hyderabad-headquartered startup was led by Salesforce Ventures, the venture arm of the American enterprise giant. This is one of Salesforce Ventures’ rare investments in Asia. Existing investors, including Lightspeed India and Sequoia Capital India, also participated in the round, which brings the five-year-old startup’s raise to-date to about $35 million.

More than 500 firms — including Tokopedia, Indorama, JG Summit Group, Zilingo, Zalora, Fave, Adani, Mahindra, Kotak, TVS, National Stock Exchange, Ujjivan Small Finance Bank, Dr.Reddy’s, Nivea, Puma, Swiggy and Bigbasket — use Darwinbox’s HR platform to provide more than a million employees of theirs with a range of features in 60 nations, up from about 200 firms across 50 nations in late 2019, said Chaitanya Peddi, co-founder of Darwinbox, in an interview with TechCrunch.

Peddi said the startup has always looked up to Salesforce for inspiration, and investment from the enterprise giant is “nothing sort of a child receiving validation from their father,” he said.

The fundraise caps the most successful year for the startup that started with uncertainty as the coronavirus spread across Asian nations. The startup initially took a hit as its customers scrambled to navigate through the global pandemic, but the last two quarters have been its best to date, said Peddi.

Overall, the startup’s revenue has ballooned by 300% since September 2019, when it last raised money, he said. “In HR tech and SaaS space, we are now only behind SAP and Oracle in India in terms of revenue,” he said.

Dev Khare, a partner at Lightspeed India, an early backer of the startup, said that Darwinbox has become the preferred human capital management solution for Asian conglomerates, governments and high-growth businesses and multi-national corporations operating in Asia as they witness digital transformation.

Image Credits: Darwinbox

Darwinbox’s platform is built to take care of the entire “hiring to retiring” cycle needs of employees. It handles onboarding of new hires, keeps a tab on their performance, monitors attrition rate, and provides an ongoing feedback loop.

It also provides its customers with a social network for their employees to remain connected with one another and an AI assistant to apply for a leave or set up meetings with quick voice commands from their phones.

Peddi said the startup will deploy the fresh capital to expand to several more countries, especially in more emerging markets in the Middle East Asia and Africa, and broaden its offerings. “We will be leveraging the power of our platform to do a lot more. We are a product-led firm and our focus will remain on innovation in that space,” he said. The startup is also open to exploring opportunities to acquire smaller firms for inorganic growth, he said.

“India is home to one of the world’s youngest populations, and by 2050, it is expected to account for over 18% of the global working age population,” said Arundhati Bhattacharya, chairperson and CEO, Salesforce India, in a statement. “This makes technology platforms like Darwinbox, that focuses on workforces, incredibly important. I’m proud that Salesforce is supporting Darwinbox on their journey as they continue to grow and innovate in this space.”

Alex Kayyal, partner and head of international at Salesforce Ventures, told TechCrunch in an interview that the firm helps its partners in a number of ways, including exposing them to the firm’s customers, executives and their networks, and helping startups scale their business.

“We have one of the most innovative and disruptive customer bases that are looking for cloud solutions and digital transformation. So the opportunity to expose companies like Darwinbox to our customer base is something we get really excited about,” said Kayyal. Salesforce Ventures is exploring more investment opportunities in India, he said.

Sep
22
2020
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Microsoft launches new Cortana features for business users

Cortana may have failed as a virtual assistant for consumers, but Microsoft is still betting on it (or at least its brand) for business use cases, now that it has rebranded it as a “personal productivity assistant” as part of Microsoft 365. Today, at its Ignite conference, Microsoft launched and announced a number of new Cortana services for business users.

These include the general availability of Cortana for the new Microsoft Teams displays the company is launching in partnership with a number of hardware vendors. You can think of these as dedicated smart displays for Teams that are somewhat akin to Google Assistant-enabled smart displays, for example — but with the sole focus on meetings. These days, it’s hard to enable a device like this without support for a voice assistant, so there you go. It’ll be available in September in English in the U.S. and will then roll out to Australia, Canada, the U.K. and India in the coming months.

In addition to these Teams devices, which Microsoft is not necessarily positioning for meeting rooms but as sidekicks to a regular laptop or desktop, Cortana will also soon come to Teams Rooms devices. Once we go back to offices and meeting rooms, after all, few people will want to touch a shared piece of hardware, so a touchless experience is a must.

For a while now, Microsoft has also been teasing more email-centric Cortana services. Play My Emails, a service that reads you your email out aloud and that’s already available in the U.S. on iOS and Android, is coming to Australia, Canada, the U.K. and India in the coming months. But more importantly, later this month, Outlook for iOS users will be able to interact with their inbox by voice, initiate calls to email senders and play emails from specific senders.

Cortana can now also send you daily briefing emails if you are a Microsoft 365 Enterprise user. This feature is now generally available and will get better meeting preparation, integration with Microsoft To Do and other new features in the coming months.

And if you’re using Cortana on Windows 10, this chat-based app now lets you compose emails, for example (at least if you speak English and are in the U.S.). And if you so desire, you can now use a wake word to launch it.

Aug
05
2020
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Amazon inks cloud deal with Airtel in India

Amazon has found a new partner to expand the reach of its cloud services business — AWS — in India, the world’s second largest internet market.

On Wednesday, the e-commerce giant announced it has partnered with Bharti Airtel, the third-largest telecom operator in India with more than 300 million subscribers, to sell a wide-range of AWS offerings under Airtel Cloud brand to small, medium, and large-sized businesses in the country.

The deal could help AWS, which leads the cloud market in India, further expand its dominance in the country. The move follows a similar deal Reliance Jio — India’s largest telecom operator and which has raised more than $20 billion in recent months from Google, Facebook and a roster of other high-profile investors — struck with Microsoft last year to sell cloud services to small businesses. The two announced a 10-year partnership to “serve millions of customers.”

Airtel, which serves over 2,500 large enterprises and more than a million emerging businesses, itself signed a similar cloud deal with Google in January this year. That partnership is still in place, Airtel said.

“AWS brings over 175 services to the table. We pretty much support any workload on the cloud. We have the largest and the most vibrant community of customers,” said Puneet Chandok, President of AWS in India and South Asia, on a call with reporters Wednesday noon.

The two companies, which signed a similar agreement in 2015, will also collaborate on building new services and help existing customers migrate to Airtel Cloud, they said.

Today’s deal illustrates Airtel’s push to build businesses beyond its telecom venture, said Harmeen Mehta, Global CIO and Head of Cloud and Security Business at Airtel, on the call. Last month, Airtel partnered with Verizon — TechCrunch’s parent company — to sell BlueJeans video conferencing service to business customers in India.

Deals with carriers were very common a decade ago in India as tech giants rushed to amass users in the country. Replicating a similar strategy now illustrates the phase of the cloud adoption in the nation.

Nearly half a billion people in India came online last decade. And slowly, small businesses and merchants are also beginning to use digital tools, storage services, and accept online payments.

India has emerged as one of the emerging leading grounds for cloud services. The public cloud services market of the country is estimated to reach $7.1 billion by 2024, according to research firm IDC.

Jul
28
2020
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Hevo draws in $8 million Series A for its no-code data pipeline service

Hevo founders Manish Jethani and Sourabh Agarwal.

According to data pipeline startup Hevo, many small to medium-sized companies juggle more than 40 different applications to manage sales, marketing, finance, customer support and other operations. All of these applications are important sources of data that can be analyzed to improve a company’s performance. That data often remains separate, however, making it difficult for different teams to collaborate.

Hevo enables its clients’ employees to integrate data from more than 150 different sources, including enterprise software from Salesforce and Oracle, even if they don’t have any technical experience. The company announced today that it has raised an $8 million Series A round led by Singapore-based venture capital firm Qualgro and Lachy Groom, a former executive at payments company Stripe.

The round, which brings Hevo’s total raised so far to $12 million, also included participation from returning investors Chiratae Ventures and Sequoia Capital India’s early-stage startup program Surge. The company was first covered by TechCrunch when it raised seed funding in 2017.

Hevo’s Series A will be used to increase the number of integrations available on its platform, and hire sales and marketing teams in more countries, including the United States and Singapore. The company currently has clients in 16 markets, including the U.S., India, France, Australia and Hong Kong, and counts payments company Marqeta among its customers.

In a statement, Puneet Bysani, tech lead manager at Marqeta, said, “Hevo saved us many engineering hours, and our data teams could focus on creating meaningful KPIs that add value to Marqeta’s business. With Hevo’s pre-built connectors, we were able to get data from many sources into Redshift and Snowflake very quickly.”

Based in Bangalore and San Francisco, Hevo was founded in 2017 by chief executive officer Manish Jethani and chief technology officer Sourabh Agarwal. The two previously launched SpoonJoy, a food delivery startup that was acquired by Grofers, one of India’s largest online grocery delivery services, in 2015. Jethani and Agarwal spent a year working at Grofers before leaving to start Hevo.

Hevo originated in the challenges Jethani and Agarwal faced while developing tech for SpoonJoy’s order and delivery system.

“All of our team members would come to us and say, ‘hey, we want to look at these metrics,’ or we would ask our teams questions if something wasn’t working. Oftentimes, they would not have the data available to answer those questions,” Jethani told TechCrunch.

Then at Grofers, Jethani and Agarwal realized that even large companies face the same challenges. They decided to work on a solution to allow companies to quickly integrate data sources.

For example, a marketing team at an e-commerce company might have data about its advertising on social media platforms, and how much traffic campaigns bring to their website or app. But they might not have access to data about how many of those visitors actually make purchases, or if they become repeat customers. By building a data pipeline with Hevo, they can bring all that information together.

Hevo is designed to serve all sectors, including e-commerce, healthcare and finance. In order to use it, companies sign up for Hevo’s services on its website and employees enter their credentials for software supported by the platform. Then Hevo automatically extracts and organizes the data from those sources and prepares it for cloud-based data warehouses, such as Amazon Redshift and Snowflake. A user dashboard allows companies to customize integrations or hide sensitive data.

Hevo is among several “no code, low code” startups that have recently raised venture capital funding for building tools that enable non-developers to add features to their existing software. The founders say its most direct competitor is Fivetran, an Oakland, California-based company that also builds pipelines to move data to warehouses and prepare it for analysis.

Jethani said Hevo differentiates by “optimizing our product for non-technical users.”

“The number of companies who need to use data is very high and there is not enough talent available in the market. Even if it is available, it is very competitive and expensive to hire that engineering talent because big companies like Google and Amazon are also competing for the same talent,” he added. “So we felt that there has to be some democratization of who can use this technology.”

Hevo also focuses on integrating data in real time, which is especially important for companies that provide on-demand deliveries or services. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Jethani says e-commerce clients have used Hevo to manage an influx in orders as people under stay-at-home orders purchase more items online. Companies are also relying on Hevo to help organize and manage data as their employees continue to work remotely.

In a statement about the funding, Qualgro managing partner Heang Chhor said, “Hevo provides a truly innovative solution for extracting and transforming data across multiple data sources — in real time with full automation. This helps enterprises to fully capture the benefit of data flowing though the many databases and software they currently use. Hevo’s founders are the type of globally-minded entrepreneurs that we like to support.”

Jul
14
2020
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Verizon partners with Airtel to launch BlueJeans in India

Bharti Airtel announced on Tuesday it has partnered with Verizon* to launch BlueJeans video-conferencing service in India to serve business customers in the world’s second largest internet market.

The video conferencing service, branded as Airtel BlueJeans in India, offers “enterprise-grade security” (which includes encrypted calls, ability to lock and password protect a meeting and generate randomized meeting IDs), a cloud point presence in India to enable low latency, HD video and Dolby Voice, and can accommodate up to 50,000 participants on a call.

Gopal Vittal, chief executive of Airtel, said in a call with reporters Tuesday that the Indian telecom operator is exploring ways to bring Airtel BlueJeans to home customers as well, though he cautioned that any such offering would take at least a few weeks to hammer out.

Airtel BlueJeans is being offered to businesses at no charge for the first three months, after which the video conferencing service will be offered at a “very competitive” price, said Vittal. Airtel will offer customized pricing plans for large businesses and small businesses, he added.

Airtel, the third largest telecom operator in India with 300 million subscribers, already maintains a partnership with G Suite and Cisco Webex, and Zoom. However, Vittal said that its collaboration with Verizon was “special” and enabled it to host data in India itself.

Verizon acquired BlueJeans in April this year. At the time, BlueJeans had over 15,000 business customers. Hans Vestberg, chief executive of Verizon, said on Tuesday that the American telecom giant was hopeful that Airtel BlueJeans would make major inroads in the Indian market, though he declined to share any figures.

Vestberg said Verizon is open to extending this partnership with Airtel to serve the Indian telecom operator’s business in African market, though both are currently focused on serving clients in India.

Tuesday’s announcement comes as video conferencing services have gained impressive momentum in India in recent months. Zoom app, which is also available to consumers, has already amassed over 35 million monthly active users in the country, according to mobile insights firm App Annie — data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch.

Reliance Jio Platforms, the top telecom operator in India with nearly 400 million subscribers, launched its video conferencing service JioMeet earlier this month. JioMeet is currently available to both consumers and business customers at no charge and a session on the service can last for up to 24 hours.

“We know we are not the first to launch a video conferencing in India, but we are confident that our differentiated offerings and brand value would stand out,” said Vittal.

Airtel BlueJeans, which includes BlueJeans’ Meetings, Events, Rooms, and Gateway for Microsoft Teams functionalities, will go live in India Tuesday evening.

*Verizon is TechCrunch’s parent company.

Jul
09
2020
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Freshworks acquires IT orchestration service Flint

Customer engagement company Freshworks today announced that it has acquired Flint, an IT orchestration and cloud management platform based in India. The acquisition will help Freshworks strengthen its Freshservice IT support service by bringing a number of new automation tools to it. Maybe just as importantly, though, it will also bolster Freshworks’ ambitions around cloud management.

Freshworks CPO Prakash Ramamurthy, who joined the company last October, told me that while the company was already looking at expanding its IT services (ITSM) and operations management (ITOM) capabilities before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, having those capabilities has now become even more important, given that a lot of these teams are now working remotely.

“If you take ITSM, we allow for customers to create their own workflow for service catalog items and so on and so forth, but we found that there’s a lot of things which were repetitive tasks,” Ramamurthy said. “For example, I lost my password or new employee onboarding, where you need to auto-provision them in the same set of accounts. Flint had integrated with Freshservice to help automate and orchestrate some of these routine tasks and a lot of customers were using it and there’s a lot of interest in it.”

He noted that while the company was already seeing increased demand for these tools earlier in the year, the pandemic made that need even more obvious. And given that pressing need, Freshworks decided that it would be far easier to acquire an existing company than to build its own solution.

“Even in early January, we felt this was a space where we had to have a time-to-market advantage,” he said. “So acquiring and aggressively integrating it into our product lines seemed to be the most optimal thing to do than take our time to build it — and we are super fortunate that we placed the right bet because of what has happened since then.”

The acquisition helps Freshworks build out some of its existing services, but Ramamurthy also stressed that it will really help the company build out its operations management capabilities to go from alert management to also automatically solving common IT issues. “We feel there’s natural synergy and [Flint’s] orchestration solution and their connectors come in super handy because they have connectors to all the modern SaaS applications and the top five cloud providers and so on.”

But Flint’s technology will also help Freshworks build out its ability to help its users manage workloads across multiple clouds, an area where it is going to compete with a number of startups and incumbents. Since the company decided that it wants to play in this field, an acquisition also made a lot of sense given how long it would take to build out expertise in this area, too.

“Cloud management is a natural progression for our product line,” Ramamurthy noted. “As more and more customers have a multi-cloud strategy, we want to give them a single pane of glass for all the work workloads they’re running. And if they wanted to do cost optimization, if you want to build on top of that, we need the basic plumbing to be able to do discovery, which is kind of foundational for that.”

Freshworks will integrate Flint’s tools into Freshservice and likely offer it as part of its existing tiered pricing structure, with service orchestration likely being the first new capability it will offer.

Jun
01
2020
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India’s richest man built a telecom operator everyone wants a piece of

As investors’ appetites sour in the midst of a pandemic, a three-and-a-half-year-old Indian firm has secured $10.3 billion in a month from Facebook and four U.S.-headquartered private equity firms.

The major deals for Reliance Jio Platforms have sparked a sudden interest among analysts, executives and readers at a time when many are skeptical of similar big check sizes that some investors wrote to several young startups, many of which are today struggling to make sense of their finances.

Prominent investors across the globe, including in India, have in recent weeks cautioned startups that they should be prepared for the “worst time” as new checks become elusive.

Elsewhere in India, the world’s second-largest internet market and where all startups together raised a record $14.5 billion last year, firms are witnessing down rounds (where their valuations are slashed). Miten Sampat, an angel investor, said last week that startups should expect a 40%-50% haircut in their valuations if they do get an investment offer.

Facebook’s $5.7 billion investment valued the company at $57 billion. But U.S. private equity firms Silver Lake, Vista, General Atlantic, and KKR — all the other deals announced in the past five weeks — are paying a 12.5% premium for their stake in Jio Platforms, valuing it at $65 billion.

How did an Indian firm become so valuable? What exactly does it do? Is it just as unprofitable as Uber? What does its future look like? Why is it raising so much money? And why is it making so many announcements instead of one.

It’s a long story.

Run up to the launch of Jio

Billionaire Mukesh Ambani gave a rundown of his gigantic Indian empire at a gathering in December 2015 packed with 35,000 people including hundreds of Bollywood celebrities and industry titans.

“Reliance Industries has the second-largest polyester business in the world. We produce one and a half million tons of polyester for fabrics a year, which is enough to give every Indian 5 meters of fabric every year, year-on-year,” said Ambani, who is Asia’s richest man.

Mar
04
2020
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Google Cloud announces four new regions as it expands its global footprint

Google Cloud today announced its plans to open four new data center regions. These regions will be in Delhi (India), Doha (Qatar), Melbourne (Australia) and Toronto (Canada) and bring Google Cloud’s total footprint to 26 regions. The company previously announced that it would open regions in Jakarta, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Seoul and Warsaw over the course of the next year. The announcement also comes only a few days after Google opened its Salt Lake City data center.

GCP already had a data center presence in India, Australia and Canada before this announcement, but with these newly announced regions, it now offers two geographically separate regions for in-country disaster recovery, for example.

Google notes that the region in Doha marks the company’s first strategic collaboration agreement to launch a region in the Middle East with the Qatar Free Zones Authority. One of the launch customers there is Bespin Global, a major managed services provider in Asia.

“We work with some of the largest Korean enterprises, helping to drive their digital transformation initiatives. One of the key requirements that we have is that we need to deliver the same quality of service to all of our customers around the globe,” said John Lee, CEO, Bespin Global. “Google Cloud’s continuous investments in expanding their own infrastructure to areas like the Middle East make it possible for us to meet our customers where they are.”

Oct
03
2019
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India’s Fyle bags $4.5M to expand its expense management platform in the US, other international markets

Fyle, a Bangalore-headquartered startup that operates an expense management platform, has extended its previous financing round to add $4.5 million of new investment as it looks to court more clients in overseas markets.

The additional $4.5 million tranche of investment was led by U.S.-based hedge fund Steadview Capital, the startup said. Tiger Global, Freshworks and Pravega Ventures also participated in the round. The new tranche of investment, dubbed Series A1, means that the three-and-a-half-year-old startup has raised $8.7 million as part of its Series A financing round, and $10.5 million to date.

The SaaS startup offers an expense management platform that makes it easier for employees of a firm to report their business expenses. The eponymous service supports a range of popular email providers, including G Suite and Office 365, and uses a proprietary technology to scan and fetch details from emails, Yash Madhusudhan, co-founder and CEO of Fyle, demonstrated to TechCrunch last week.

A user, for instance, could open a flight ticket email and click on Fyle’s Chrome extension to fetch all details and report the expense in a single click in real-time. As part of today’s announcement, Madhusudhan unveiled an integration with WhatsApp . Users will now be able to take pictures of their tickets and other things and forward it to Fyle, which will quickly scan and report expense filings for them.

These integrations come in handy to users. “Eighty percent to ninety percent of a user’s spending patterns land on their email and messaging clients. And traditionally it has been a pain point for them to get done with their expense filings. So we built a platform that looks at the challenges faced by them. At the same time, our platform understands frauds and works with a company’s compliances and policies to ensure that the filings are legitimate,” he said.

“Every company today could make use of an intelligent expense platform like Fyle. Major giants already subscribe to ERP services that offer similar capabilities as part of their offerings. But as a company or startup grows beyond 50 to 100 people, it becomes tedious to manage expense filings,” he added.

Fyle maintains a web application and a mobile app, and users are free to use them. But the rationale behind introducing integrations with popular services is to make it easier than ever for them to report filings. The startup retains its algorithms each month to improve their scanning abilities. “The idea is to extend expense filing to a service that people already use,” he said.

International expansion

Until late last year, Fyle was serving customers in India. Earlier this year, it began searching for clients outside the nation. “Our philosophy was if we are able to sell in India remotely and get people to use the product without any training, we should be able to replicate this in any part of the world,” he said.

And that bet has worked. Fyle has amassed more than 300 clients, more than 250 of which are from outside of India. Today, the startup says it has customers in 17 nations, including the U.S. and the U.K. Furthermore, Fyle’s revenue has grown by five times in the last five months, said Madhusudhan, without disclosing the exact figures.

To accelerate its momentum, the startup is today also launching an enterprise version of Fyle that will serve the needs of major companies. The enterprise version supports a range of additional security features, such as IP restriction and a single sign-in option.

Fyle will use the new capital to develop more product solutions and integrations and expand its footprint in international markets, Madhusudhan said. The startup, which just recently set up its sales and marketing team, will also expand the headcount, he said.

Moving forward, Madhusudhan said the startup would also explore tie-ups with ERP providers and other ways to extend the reach of Fyle.

In a statement, Ravi Mehta, MD at Steadview Capital, said, “intelligent and automated systems will empower businesses to be more efficient in the coming decade. We are excited to partner with Fyle to transform one of the core business processes of expense management through intelligence and automation.”

Aug
12
2019
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India’s Reliance Jio inks deal with Microsoft to expand Office 365, Azure to more businesses; unveils broadband, blockchain and IoT platforms

India’s Reliance Jio, which has disrupted the local telecom and features phone markets in less than three years of existence, is ready to foray into many more businesses.

In a series of announcements Monday, which included a long-term partnership with global giant Microsoft, Reliance Jio said it will commercially roll out its broadband service next month; an IoT platform with ambitions to power more than a billion devices on January 1 next year; and “one of the world’s biggest blockchain networks” in the next 12 months — all while also scaling its retail and commerce businesses.

The broadband service, called Jio Fiber, is aimed at individual customers, small and medium-sized businesses as well as enterprises, Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries and Asia’s richest man, said at a shareholders’ meeting today.

The service, which is being initially targeted at 20 million homes and 15 million businesses in 1,600 towns, will start rolling out commercially starting September 5. Ambani said more than half a million customers have already been testing the broadband service, which was first unveiled last year.

The broadband service will come bundled with access to hundreds of TV channels and free calls across India and at discounted rates to the U.S. and Canada, Ambani said. The service, the cheapest tier of which will offer internet speeds of 100Mbps, will be priced at Rs 700 (~$10) a month. The company said it will offer various plans to meet a variety of needs, including those of customers who want access to gigabit internet speeds.

Continuing its tradition to woo users with significant “free stuff,” Jio, which is a subsidiary of India’s largest industrial house (Reliance Industries) said customers who opt for the yearly plan of its fiber broadband will be provided with the set-top box and an HD or 4K TV at no extra charge. Specific details weren’t immediately available. A premium tier, which will be available starting next year, will allow customers to watch many movies on the day of their public release.

The broadband service will bundle games from many popular studios, including Microsoft Game Studios, Riot Games, Tencent Games and Gameloft, Jio said.

Partnership with Microsoft

The company also announced a 10-year partnership with Microsoft to launch new cloud data centers in India to ensure “more of Jio’s customers can access the tools and platforms they need to build their own digital capability,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in a video appearance Monday.

ambani nadella

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talks about the company’s partnership with Reliance Jio

“At Microsoft, our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. Core to this mission is deep partnerships, like the one we are announcing today with Reliance Jio. Our ambition is to help millions of organizations across India thrive and grow in the era of rapid technological change.”

“Together, we will offer a comprehensive technology solution, from compute to storage, to connectivity and productivity for small and medium-sized businesses everywhere in the country,” he added.

As part of the partnership, Nadella said, Jio and Microsoft will jointly offer Azure, Microsoft 365 and Microsoft AI platforms to more organizations in India, and also bring Azure Cognitive Services to more devices and in 13 Indian languages to businesses in the country. The solutions will be “accessible” to reach as many people and organizations in India as possible, he added. The cloud services will be offered to businesses for as little as Rs 1,500 ($21) per month.

The first two data centers will be set up in Gujarat and Maharashtra by next year. Jio will migrate all of its non-networking apps to the Microsoft Azure platform and promote its adoption among its ecosystem of startups, the two said in a joint statement.

The foray into broadband business and push to court small enterprises come as Reliance Industries, which dominates the telecom and retail spaces in India, attempts to diversify from its marquee oil and gas business. Reliance Jio, the nation’s top telecom operator, has amassed more than 340 million subscribers in less than three years of its commercial operations.

At the meeting, Ambani also unveiled that Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil producer Aramco was buying a 20% stake in $75 billion worth Reliance Industries’ oil-to-chemicals business.

Like other Silicon Valley companies, Microsoft sees massive potential in India, where tens of millions of users and businesses have come online for the first time in recent years. Cloud services in India are estimated to generate a revenue of $2.4 billion this year, up about 25% from last year, according to research firm Gartner. Microsoft has won several major clients in India in recent years, including insurance giant ICICI Lombard.

Today’s partnership could significantly boost Microsoft’s footprint in India, posing a bigger headache for Amazon and Google.

Ambani also said Reliance Retail, the nation’s largest retailer, is working on a “digital stack” to create a new commerce partnership platform in India to reach tens of millions of merchants, consumers and producers. Ambani said Reliance Industries plans to list both Reliance Retail and Jio publicly in the next years.

“We have received strong interests from strategic and financial investors in our consumer businesses — Jio and Reliance Retail. We will induct leading global partners in these businesses in the next few quarters and move towards listing of both these companies within the next five years,” he said.

The announcement comes weeks after Reliance Industries acquired for $42.3 million a majority stake in Fynd, a Mumbai-based startup that connects brick and mortar retailers with online stores and consumers. Reliance Industries has previously stated plans to launch a new e-commerce firm in the country.

Without revealing specific details, Ambani also said that Jio is building an IoT platform to control at least one billion of the two billion IoT devices in India by next year. He said he sees IoT as a $2.8 billion revenue opportunity for Jio. Similarly, the company also plans to expand its blockchain network across India, he said.

“Using blockchain, we can deliver unprecedented security, trust, automation and efficiency to almost any type of transaction. And using blockchain, we also have an opportunity to invent a brand-new model for data privacy where Indian data, especially customer data is owned and controlled through technology by the Indian people an d not by corporate, especially global corporations,” he added.

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