Google is in advanced talks to buy a $4 billion stake in Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani's technology venture, people familiar with the matter said, seeking to join rival Facebook Inc. in chasing growth in a promising internet and e-commerce market.
The Mountain View, California-based company has been discussing the investment in Jio Platforms Ltd., the digital arm of Ambani's Reliance Industries Ltd., 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 center of the Indian tycoon's ambition to transform his energy conglomerate into a homegrown technology behemoth akin to China's Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. The venture has turned into a magnet for Silicon Valley investors, attracting almost $16 billion from Facebook to KKR & Co. in the past three months.
Should the talks with Google result in a deal, that 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 Corp. are looking for multiple ways to grab a slice of the Indian market, where millions of first-time internet users are added every month. Jio Platforms, which boasts almost 400 million customers through its wireless network, offers the largest base of such users who are increasingly buying consumer goods online and downloading music and video, using cheap smartphones and Jio's own cut-price data services.
Trade war politics have all but eliminated Google's odds of returning to China. That leaves India as one of the remaining large digital markets where Google's key business lines, Search and YouTube, have room to grow. It's also a country where Google has made headway in more nascent efforts, such as payments and health care.
Chetan Sharma, a tech industry consultant, said cloud-computing is the main reason Google is investing in Jio. The move would also support Google's Android smartphone operating system and its mobile payments efforts in the country, he added.
Telecom giants are turning to cloud-computing for their next wave of expansion. As a provider, Google has lagged behind competitors in this growing sector, Sharma said. "Google has been more reactive than proactive," he said. "This gives them a leg in."
Last year, Reliance entered a 10-year deal with Microsoft Corp. for cloud services. The announcement did not describe the partnership as exclusive, and Google's cloud strategy has centered on offering businesses ways to spend across multiple providers.
An arm of Qualcomm Inc. is the latest in Jio's growing list of high-profile investors, which also includes Intel Capital, Silver Lake Partners and Mubadala Investment Co. As of July 12, Reliance had sold 25.2% of Jio, valuing the venture at $65 billion.
Google invests widely in companies, through its venture capital units as well as off its own balance sheet. A $4 billion investment would be the largest Google has made in a company outside of the US
Here's a list of confirmed investors in Jio Platforms:
The string of investments in Jio has spurred a rally in the shares of parent Reliance. The stock has more than doubled from its March 23 low, rewarding investors who will get to hear Ambani, 63, lay out his road map for the future of the group at the conglomerate's annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday.Details of the potential deal with Google could change, and negotiations could still be delayed or fall apart, the people said. Reliance's representatives didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokeswoman for Google in California declined to comment on Tuesday.
The stock surge has also helped Ambani, Asia's richest man, to break into the exclusive club of the world's 10 wealthiest people. With a net worth of $72.4 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, the titan has rocketed past Elon Musk, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, as well as legendary investor Warren Buffett in the past few days to become sixth on the list.
Just like Facebook, Google is expanding its presence in the Indian market. On Monday, the company said it plans to spend $10 billion 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 others, it said.
Sundar Pichai, who was born in the country and is now chief executive officer of Google parent Alphabet Inc., said the coronavirus outbreak has made clear the importance of technology for conducting business and 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 proved a lure to a raft of American technology giants.
In the last decade, Google has successfully launched several products in India, including an Internet Saathi service to bring women in rural areas online and its Google Pay service.
Disclaimer: This article first appeared on Bloomberg, and is published by special syndication arrangement