Mukesh Ambani. Picture: REUTERS/SHAILESH ANDRADE
Mukesh Ambani. Picture: REUTERS/SHAILESH ANDRADE

Mumbai/Hong Kong/Bangalore — Google is in advanced talks to buy a $4bn stake in Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s technology venture, people familiar with the matter said, seeking to join rival Facebook in the chase for growth in a promising internet market.

The California-based titan has been discussing the investment in Reliance Industries’ digital arm, Jio Platforms, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. An announcement could come as soon as the next few weeks, according to the people.

Jio is at the centre of the Indian tycoon’s ambition to transform his energy conglomerate into a home-grown technology behemoth — something along the lines of China’s Alibaba. The venture has turned into a magnet for Silicon Valley investors, attracting almost $16bn from Facebook to KKR in the past three months.

Should the talks with Google result in a deal, it would further burnish Jio’s credentials in its push to upend online retail, content streaming, digital payments, education and health care in a market of more than a billion people.

Global technology leaders from Facebook to Intel are looking for multiple ways to grab a slice of the action in the South Asian country, where millions of first-time internet users are added monthly. Jio Platforms, which has almost 400-million users through its wireless network, offers the largest base of such users who are increasingly buying merchandise online and downloading music and video, using cheap smartphones and Jio’s own cut-price data services.

An arm of Qualcomm was the latest in Jio’s growing list of high-profile investors, who also include Intel Capital, Silver Lake Partners and Mubadala Investment. As of July 12, Reliance had sold 25.2% of Jio, valuing the venture at $65bn.

Share rally

Details of the potential deal with Google could change, and negotiations could still be delayed or fall apart, the people said. Representatives for Google and Reliance didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The string of investments in Jio has spurred a rally in the shares of parent Reliance. The stock has more than doubled from their March 23 low, rewarding investors who will get to hear Ambani lay out the road map for the future of the group at the annual shareholders’ meeting on Wednesday.

The surge in the shares has also helped Ambani, Asia’s richest man, to break into the exclusive club of the world’s 10 richest people. With a net worth of $72.4bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, he has rocketed past Elon Musk, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and legendary investor Warren Buffett in the past few days to the sixth place on the list.

Just like Facebook, Google is expanding its presence in the Indian market. On Monday, the company said it plans to spend $10bn over the next five to seven years to help accelerate the adoption of digital technologies in the country. The amount could be put into partnerships and equity investments among other, it said.

Sundar Pichai, who was born in the country and is now CEO of Google’s parent, Alphabet, said the coronavirus outbreak has made clear the importance of technology for conducting business and for connecting with friends and family.

Founded in 1998 in Silicon Valley, Google entered India six years later with offices in Bangalore and Hyderabad. The India business has since grown into one of the company’s most important. The country now has more than 500-million internet users, second only to China, with growth that has drawn all the US technology giants.

In the last decade, Google has successfully launched several products in India, including a Google Internet Saathi service to bring women in rural areas online and its popular Google Pay service.

Bloomberg

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