While there are strong rumours that funding may soon be withdrawn from one state-owned Indian operator, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL), the much bigger Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) is clearly still deemed worthy of support after a major injection of funding got the go-ahead this week.
This is the third revival package the Indian cabinet has approved for BSNL. It totals 89.47 billion rupees – a whopping US$1.1 billion at current exchange rates. This sum apparently includes the allocation of 4G and 5G spectrum for BSNL.
An official statement says, “The authorised capital of BSNL will be increased from Rs 1,50,000 crore to Rs 2,10,000 crore [about US$18 bllion to US$24.4 billion].”
According to India’s Economic Times news service, the statement also suggests that, with this revival package, BSNL will emerge as a stable telecom service provider focused on providing connectivity to the remotest parts of India.
This remains to be seen. However, there is certainly a lot of spectrum for BSNL to use. The spectrum allocations include 10MHz in the 700MHz band for 22 LSAs (Licensed Service Areas), 70MHz in the 3300MHz band for 22 LSAs, 800MHz in 21 LSAs and 650MHz in one LSA in the 26GHz band, and 20MHz in six LSAs and 10MHz in two LSAs in the 2500MHz band.
In theory this spectrum allocation will enable BSNL to provide pan-India 4G and 5G service, 4G coverage in rural and uncovered villages under various connectivity projects, fixed wireless access (FWA) services, and services or spectrum for so-called captive non-public networks (CNPNs), likely to be a reference to private 4G and 5G networks.
However, by the time this happens, BSNL will be way behind all three leading private operators, which have all already rolled out 4G networks and services. In fact Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel are expecting to complete 5G rollout within a year.
Nevertheless, this is positive news for BSNL’s rollout plans. Indeed, it recently issued an advance purchase order (APO) to Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) and ITI Limited for 100,000 4G sites.