Google invests $1 billion in Indian carrier Bharti Airtel • The Register
Google tapped into its $10 billion Indian Digitization Fund for local mobile operator Bharti Airtel to work with it on “mutually agreed business initiatives”.
The search and advertising giant launched the grandly-named fund in July 2020 and promised that the money would go to “a mix of equity investments, partnerships, operations, infrastructure and investments in the ecosystem” – provided they help provide affordable internet across India, create new products for the Indian market, helped businesses to be more digital or put AI at the service of the social good.
Google’s most visible use of the fund has been its $4.5 billion investment in mobile operator Jio Platforms – a deal that saw the two develop a special version of Android. The operating system runs on low-cost handsets that Jio loads with its own services and many products from Google.
Jio Platforms has around 400 million subscribers. Bharti Airtel has about 350 million.
Google’s billion-dollar investment in Bharti Airtel includes a $700 million equity investment that will give it just over one percent of Bharti Airtel’s shares. The remaining $300 million ‘will go towards the implementation of commercial agreements, which will include investments in scaling Airtel’s offerings that cover a range of devices to consumers through innovative affordability programs as well as other offerings aimed at accelerating digital access and inclusion in the Indian digital ecosystem”.
Among the items covered by the $300 million are:
- Work to “jointly explore and invest in a wide range of areas to create digital solutions that uniquely meet India’s needs”;
- An effort to work on “innovative affordability programs” to get smartphones into the hands of consumers, “across a range of price points, in partnership with various device manufacturers”;
- An intention to “potentially co-create India-specific network domain use cases for 5G and other standards, with state-of-the-art implementations”.
With this deal, Google now has partnerships with mobile operators that cover around 67% of the Indian market, giving the Android slinger a huge influence on the mobile device experience that more users enjoy than any other. any market outside of China.
The investment was announced after India’s Minister of State for Electronics and Computers Rajeev Chandrasekhar floated the idea of creating an indigenous mobile operating system to diversify the market for such software. In our report on this plan, we wondered if this might irritate Google, given the existence and scope of the Indian Digitization Fund.
Google hasn’t said anything so far – as you’d expect given that deals like the Google/Bharti investment aren’t sealed in timelines like the week between Chandrasekhar’s thought bubble and the announcement of the new alliance last Friday. ®