As the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) is yet to start the fourth generation (4G) services, Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has put blame on the public sector telecom service provider for 'deliberately delaying' rolling out the 4G network.
Though the private sector telecom companies are set to introduce the new 5G services shortly, BSNL has been waiting to roll out the 4G services. The employees, unions and associations in BSNL have been demanding the introduction of 4G services for long. Following a series of protests and demonstrations by the unions and associations, the BJP-led central government had announced a revival package on October 23, 2019.
Along with other things, the Rs 69,000 crore revival package included allotment of 4G spectrum to BSNL, asset monetisation and extending of sovereign guarantee, to enable BSNL to raise funds from market, by issuing bonds.
Following this, BSNL floated a tender in March 2020 to procure equipment to roll out its 4G service at the cost of Rs 9,000 crore. However, soon thereafter, the tender floated by BSNL was cancelled based on a complaint given by the Telecom Equipment and Services Promotion Council (TEPC). The objection of the TEPC is that BSNL is violating the “Make in India Policy”. It has demanded that foreign companies should be barred from participating in BSNL’s tending process, for the procurement of 4G equipment.
“The government directed BSNL to cancel this tender based on a flimsy complaint raised by an inconsequential organisation called TEPC (Telecom Equipment and Services Export Promotion Council),” P Abhimanyu, the general secretary of BSNL Employees Union (BSNLEU) had pointed out earlier.
“When all the private operators are procuring world class 4G equipment from international vendors, why should the BSNL alone be compelled to procure equipment from domestic vendors? The Indian vendors do not have proven 4G technology. Further, they do not have the experience of managing large networks. Hence, compelling BSNL to procure 4G equipment from the Indian vendors is nothing but denial of level playing ground to BSNL, vis-à-vis the private telecom service providers. In BSNLEU’s view, the TEPC is nothing but a tool, being used by vested interests, to stall BSNL from procuring 4G equipment,” he added.
Amid this, an internal committee of the DoT had recommended “BSNL to divert its focus and spending away from 2G and 3G, and use domestic gear vendors for deploying 4G-only radio and core network.” According to a report in ET Teleco, BSNL has opposed the suggestions, saying it still gets 60% of its revenue from 2G and using only local vendors – whose products are untested – will hamper quality of services. Shortly after the recommendations were made, BSNL wrote to DoT on October 8 citing these concerns and also saying that it will design the tender document and send it back to the DoT for vetting.
Pointing out these, the government is blaming the BSNL now for delaying the 4G services.
"With the proposal to submit the tender document sent back to DoT only shows the intent of BSNL to delay the process of starting the Proof of Concept (PoC) and giving an opportunity to Indian suppliers who have put in efforts to create Indian core in the mobile 4G technology, including the product from C-DoT,” a senior official of the DoT was quoted as saying in response to BSNL’s letter.
Meanwhile, the BSNL in its letter said that they are having two different cores for its network – one for existing 2G and 3G and another for 4G.
BSNL, however, reportedly sought a 5MHz spectrum in the 2100MHz range pan India except for Rajasthan where it sought 800MHz band airwaves. Commenting on the allocation of 4G spectrum, the department official said that “the demand note for 4G spectrum cost has already been raised by Wireless Planning and Coordination (WPC) wing, and budgetary allocation for the radiowaves has been made by the Ministry of Finance (MoF).”
But the BSNLEU in a press note said that the suggestions of the committee that has been formed by the government for suggesting the roadmap for BSNL’s 4G service launching, clearly indicate the government wants to convert BSNL into a sick company by delaying its 4G launching. The committee was constituted in the aftermath of the cancellation of BSNL’s 4G tender.
The DoT Committee has recommended that a system integrator will build and manage BSNL’s 4G network. The “system integrator” will be an Indian company, which will be given the responsibility of procuring the hardware and software from different vendors and to assemble them.
“It is important to note that, all the private telecom operators have built their networks by a single vendor, through turnkey contracts. According to the ‘turnkey contract’, a single vendor will manage the networks under Managed Services Agreement. However, in the ‘system integrator’ model, multiple vendors will be involved, which will lead to technical problems,” BSNLEU said in a press statement.
According to industry experts and analysts, any move to adopt the system integrator model for building BSNL’s 4G network along with a preference to home-grown vendors will result in cost inefficiencies. This will hurt the telco’s capability to compete in the market. They also noted that the System Integrator model and expertise of local players in building a 4G network are largely unproven.
Pointing out all these issues, BSNLEU said, “these only show that the conspiracy to kill BSNL, is deepening.”