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BSNL: Deadlock With Pvt Firm Over 4G Launch, Union Fears Return of Financial Challenges

Ronak Chhabra |
In a letter addressed to Union Minister of Communications and IT Ashwini Vaishnaw on Thursday, the BSNLEU lamented that it is "really pathetic" that BSNL is still not in a position to launch its 4G services.
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The Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) Employees Unions expressed concern on Thursday over the prevailing deadlock between the state-run telco and IT services provider Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) that has affected the rollout of the former's much-awaited fourth generation or 4G services.

In a letter addressed to Union Minister of Communications and IT Ashwini Vaishnaw, the employees union lamented that it is "really pathetic" that BSNL is still not in a position to launch its 4G services. This is even as media reports claim that the state-run telecom company's next-generation commercial network is set for a limited inaugural launch by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 15, the union added.

The Mumbai-based TCS is expected to provide network equipment for 6,000 sites of BSNL to roll out 4G services after the latter had released a purchase order earlier in March this year.

In January last year, BSNL had released a detailed notice inviting e-tender for planning, testing, deployment and annual maintenance of its much-awaited 4G network across four operational zones in addition to Delhi and Mumbai circles for 57,000 sites on a turnkey basis and sought proof of concept for Indian companies and consortiums willing to participate in its upcoming 4G tender, in order to test their network quality.

However, a deadlock ensued between the two as the private firm had, earlier this month, sought to enhance the network equipment supply cost in line with the increase in component pricing due to supply chain constraints, escalated labour wages, and continued rupee volatility against the US dollar, according to a report by Economic Times.

“We learn that, bargaining on the price of the equipments is still going on, since TCS is not prepared to supply the equipments at the price quoted by BSNL. It is learned that, the TCS is advancing various reasons for making the bargaining. It is already the end of June today. If even the purchase order is not accepted by the TCS, we do not understand as to when the supply of equipments to BSNL is going to take place,” the BSNLEU said on Thursday.

The union, in its letter, further flayed the private firm for not completing the Proof of Concept (PoC) to date, despite multiple extensions in deadlines.

Tata group company-backed consortium was shortlisted to conduct proof of concept (PoC) in Ambala and Chandigarh. In July last year, it was asked to test the network within a 120-day timeframe, and the deadline was later extended up to December 31 and later to January 2022.

Despite all the "rosy picture" painted by the BSNL management and the Centre, the state-run telco is being "weakened" from the inside, P Abhimanyu, general secretary, BSNLEU told NewsClick in a telephone interview on Friday.

Highlighting the “inordinate delay” in the launching of BSNL’s 4G services, Abhimanyu underscored that the state-run telco “may soon return to the pre-VRS situation.”

As many as 79,000 employees – over half of the total strength – of the BSNL's workforce were retired in 2020 after Rs 69,000 crore package to turn around the debt-laden BSNL, and MTNL (Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited) was announced in October 2019.

On Friday, Abhimanyu expressed concern that the financial challenges before VRS will only return in case issues are not resolved at the earliest to roll out 4G services and “business opportunities are not grabbed.”

"When the private telecom companies, viz., Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea, are permitted by the government to procure their equipments from global vendors, why the same is being denied to BSNL? It is a fact that BSNL could have successfully rolled out its 4G service by this time, had the level playing ground not been denied to it," the BSNLEU's Thursday letter further complained.

A tender floated by BSNL in March 2020 to procure equipment to roll out its 4G service was cancelled based on a complaint given by the Telecom Equipment and Services Promotion Council (TEPC) in which it accused the former of violating the "Make in India Policy". For many months now, the employees union has expressed anguish over the same.

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