By Prashant Mehra
MUMBAI (Reuters) - Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd will spend more than $26 billion across its businesses over three years, it said on Thursday, giving few details of plans for its long-anticipated launch of 4G telecommunications services.
Reliance, India's fourth-largest company by market value, has been under pressure from investors worried by its slowing natural gas business and its drive into consumer sectors such as telecoms and retail.
Reliance has for years looked to diversify beyond its core energy business, but profits have been elusive.
Reliance Jio Infocomm, its telecoms unit, is the only Indian company to have nationwide permits for 4G services. Nearly three years after acquiring the airwaves, it is yet to start commercial services.
Chairman Mukesh Ambani, India's richest man, told shareholders at the company's annual general meeting that he had a bullish view of the potential for digital services in India, and the unit would more than triple its headcount to 10,000 over next year, but did not say when services will be launched.
"Let me assure skeptics that my continued optimism is based on the significant strides that we at Reliance have taken in the past year - towards engineering and testing a world-class broadband network, and in developing a suite of compelling and synergistic digital services," he said.
"Our impatience to reach our goal demands a sense of urgency, but not careless haste," Ambani said, amid speculation that the company will make its commercial 4G network launch later this year.
$26 BILLION INVESTMENT PLAN
Reliance Jio has finalized key vendors and suppliers required for the initial launch of the services, Ambani said.
"Together with our partners, we have charted an ambitious plan for the next 12 months, and we at Reliance Jio foresee making rapid progress over this period towards launching our services across India," he said.
Shares in Reliance were down 1.1 percent at 793.40 rupees at 0708 GMT (3.08 a.m. EDT) in a Mumbai market <.nsei> that was down 0.1 percent. The stock was about 0.5 percent lower before Ambani began his speech.</.nsei>
Reliance is making investments exceeding 1.5 trillion rupees ($26.4 billion) across its five business areas - energy exploration and production, petroleum refining and marketing, petrochemicals, retail, and 4G, Ambani said.
Referring to the gas discovery that Reliance, along with partners BP Plc and Niko Resources Ltd , announced last month in the KG-D6 block off India's east coast, Ambani said more prospects have been lined up for exploration drilling over the next few quarters.
He said various "production augmentation efforts" were underway to maximize recovery from existing fields in KG D6 block, where output has disappointed expectations.
($1 = 56.7725 Indian rupees)
(Additional reporting by Sumeet Chatterjee; Writing by Devidutta Tripathy; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)