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Facebook in talks to acquire stake in top Indian telco Reliance Jio, report says

Manish Singh
A pedestrian using a smartphone walks past advertising and signage for Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. at the Nehru Place IT Market in New Delhi, India on Tuesday, May 30, 2017. Reliance Communications Ltd.'s credit rating was cut deeper into junk territory by Moody's Investors Service, which cited its weak operating performance, high leverage and fragile liquidity position. Reliance Communications' troubles come amid intensifying competition among mobile phone carriers in India, fueled by the entry of Reliance Jio, launched by India's richest man Mukesh Ambani. Photographer: Sanjit Das/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Reliance Jio, a three-and-a-half-year-old subsidiary of India’s most valued firm Reliance Industries, may have attracted the attention of an American giant: Facebook.

The social conglomerate is in talks to acquire a 10% stake in the Indian telecom operator, the Financial Times reported Tuesday. The size of the deal, the paper said, was in “multi-billion dollars.”

Analysts at Bernstein value Jio at more than $60 billion. Mukesh Ambani, India's richest man who runs Reliance Industries, has poured over $25 billion into Reliance Jio over the years.

Reliance Jio, which began its commercial operation in the second half of 2016, upended the local telecom market by offering bulk of 4G data and free voice calls for six months.

The telco kickstarted a price war that saw local network providers Vodafone and Airtel quickly move to revise their data plans and mobile tariffs. But they struggled to match the offerings of Jio, which has amassed over 370 million subscribers to become the top telecom operator in the country.

Reaching those users might interest Facebook, which attempted and failed to expand its free internet initiative, Free Basics, in India. (The company has since expanded Express Wi-Fi to India -- though its potential and scale remains comparatively small.)

Reliance Jio also owns a suite of services including music streaming service JioSaavn, on-demand live television service JioTV and payments service JioPay.

Earlier this year, Reliance Industries announced JioMart, a joint venture between Reliance Jio and Reliance Retail, the nation's largest retail chain, to soft-launch an e-commerce business.

In recent quarters, Facebook, which is beginning to see competition from ByteDance's TikTok in India, has started to take interest in local startups. Last year, the firm made an investment in social commerce Meesho; and last month, it wrote a check to edtech startup Unacademy.

Ajit Mohan, VP and managing director of Facebook India, told TechCrunch in an interview last year that the company was open to engaging with startups that are building solutions for the Indian market for more investing opportunities. “Wherever we believe there is opportunity beyond the work we do today, we are open to exploring further investment deals,” he said.

Facebook and Reliance Jio declined to comment.