Reliance Jio, the country’s largest telecom operator, has started blocking the ‘sideloading’ of third-party Android apps on its Jio Fiber set top boxes.
The operator had recently introduced Android Pie-based fiber set top boxes for its users over the last few weeks, and subscribers soon realized that the box came with two key assets that would allow them to install all kinds of third-party apps. These tools were a web browser and a built-in ‘app installer’.
In contrast, the original version of the set top box, built on Android 7, came with neither. It even went to the extent of greying out the Android menu item that allowed users to install third-party apps.
However, customers who got the Android 9 version of the box have been installing all kinds of applications on the device, including the likes of Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and MX Player, which are all direct competitors to Jio’s services.
They were able to do this by simply using the web-browser — called Jio Pages — to search for the apk or installation files of these apps on the Internet, downloading them, and then installing these apk files using the built-in app-installer.
Surprisingly, the app-installer came built in with the Android 9 version of the box.
However, Jio’s latest updates now removes the app-installer from the device.Without the app installer, customers can download apk files from the internet, but cannot ‘sideload’ them or install them.
Moreover, there is no obvious way to prevent the software of the box from being auto-updated.
WHY NO THIRD-PARTY APPS?
Jio’s fiber business has two aspects to it. The first is the consumer side, where a consumer buys a broadband connection and pays a monthly amount for the bandwidth.
For example, a consumer can get around 200 GB of high-speed data for around Rs 850 per month.
The second aspect of the business is content distribution.
In addition to providing broadband connectivity, Jio is also building up its Fiber service as a content distribution platform — a place where TV channels, film companies and app makers can distribute their services.
For example, if an e-commerce company wants to reach millions of Jio Fiber users on their set-top-box, it can go to Reliance Jio, and enter into an agreement for the operator to distribute its app.
Similarly, film producers can distribute their films on the operator’s platform.
Several app makers have already signed up for the same, including Hotstar, Sony Pictures Networks and Zee Entertainment.
Once the agreement is signed, Jio allows these companies to place their apps on Jio set top boxes, and ‘sell’ their content to its customers. The payment is also routed through the operator, via the user’s monthly subscription charge.
This allows Jio to generate revenue from two sources — the consumers who pay subscription charges, and the app-makers who pay commission for the sales they make through the platform.
Sideloading of apps on the box was essentially hurting the second leg of Jio’s business by enabling customers to by the operator and install any app from the Internet, such as Amazon Prime Video, which does not have any distribution agreement with Jio.
It should be noted that the restriction on third-party apps applies only to the Fiber box, and not to the Internet connection.
In other words, users can still install any app they want on non-Jio boxes and smart TVs, and use those apps over the Internet connection provided by the Fiber service.
It should also be noted that Jio is the only major Android box vendor that is blocking third party apps. Android boxes from rivals like Bharti Airtel, Tata Sky and Dish TV allow the user to install any app from Google’s Play Store. The downside with most of these vendors is that the user often has to arrange for the Internet connection independently.