Google to invest up to $1 billion in India's second biggest carrier

The Airtel partnership focuses on 'affordable access to smartphones.'

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After investing $4.5 billion in India's largest carrier Jio, Google is now putting up to $1 billion in Airtel, the second largest mobile operator, Airtel announced. The partnership is focusing on "affordable access to smartphones" and is part of Google's promised $10 billion investment in the country. "Our commercial and equity investment in Airtel is a continuation of our Google for India Digitization Fund's efforts to increase access to smartphones," Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in a statement.

The deal includes a $700 million investment to acquire a 1.28 percent ownership in Airtel, with another $300 million earmarked for potential commercial agreements. Specifically, Airtel and Google will work to expand on Airtel's Android device lineup via "innovative affordability programs." The companies didn't specify what those programs would entail, however.

Airtel also said that it would look at "larger strategic goals" with Google around 5G network standards, cloud ecosystems and more. "With our future ready network, digital platforms, last mile distribution and payments ecosystem, we look forward to working closely with Google to increase the depth and breadth of India’s digital ecosystem," said Airtel chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal.

Google previously collaborated with Jio on the low-cost $87 JioPhone Next smartphone that went on sale on November 4th price following a delay due to the global chip shortage. Jio has also received investment from Facebook and other companies.

With a huge number of potential internet users, Alphabet, Facebook parent Meta and others have looked to India to boost growth. Both tech giants have worked to bring internet connectivity to India, Alphabet with Project Loon and Meta via Free Basics, which was later banned in India.