“Free” is a compelling price point for any product consumers really want to buy. “Free” is why so many mobile users default to Wi-Fi access when they can. “Free” is why so many use over-the-top messaging or voice services. “Free” also can change consumer behavior. Consider Reliance Jio customer use of Wi-Fi, which is quite low. 

In India, where Reliance Jio has been offering first 4 GB of free data usage per day, and 1 GB of free data usage per day through early 2017, such offers have proven to increase use of mobile data far beyond what one might typically expect, and apparently also reduce Wi-Fi usage far below what one might expect. 

Since September 2016 Reliance Jio has signed up 50 million customers and has triggered a price war among India’s established mobile operators.

But Jio customers also differ from other mobile customers in India in one way: they have a very low usage of Wi-Fi connections, according to OpenSignal.

OpenSignal data from Sept. 1 to Nov. 30, 2016  (the three months in which Jio has been available), Jio users connected to Wifi networks about 8.2 percent of the time. That is well below the average of 29.8 percent of internet access time on Wi-Fi.

  • Jio                  8.2 percent
  • Idea               24.1 percent
  • Telenor          24.3 percent
  • Aircel            24.9 percent
  • Airtel             27.1 percent
  • Reliance        28.1 percent
  • Tata DoCoMo 30.4 percent
  • BSNL             31.1 percent
  • Vodafone      31.3 percent

The obvious reason for the low Reliance Jio customer use of Wi-Fi is that they simply have so much free access on the mobile network that Wi-Fi access to “save on data usage” is simply an unnecessary move. Of course, all that could–and should–change once Jio starts charging for mobile data usage.  

But, for the moment, “free” access seems to have lead to about an order of magnitude (10 times) reduction in the amoiunt of Wi-Fi usage by Jio customers, compared to all other mobile customers in India. Free is a powerful price point.