The Call For Quality

Updated: Oct 22 2002, 05:30am hrs
With over 37 million basic telephony subscribers and a quality of service (QoS) record that hasnt really attracted rave reviews, the government-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) did manage to score overall on the basis of perception, as per a recent Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) QoS survey. This, as it fell way short of all objective benchmarks compared to its peers from the private sector in basic telephony services! So, hows it going to perform in the cellular service space Despite its attractive rates and facilities, BSNLs recently launched cellular services across the country will need to rely on more than just perception to grab a sizeable chunk of the growing market. If sister concern Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltds (MTNL) record in mobile telephony is any indicator, BSNLs potential customers have cause for concern.

But before we sit in judgment over BSNL, a look at the up and downsides. A nationwide plain old telephone services (POTS) network with a 35,000 km optical fibre backbone; infrastructure that it claims can support 4 million global services for mobile telephony (GSM) customers seamlessly across the country without roaming charges; a positive perception whatever that means that put it on top of the charts in five POTS circles, as per the Trai QoS survey. On the flip side are loaded against it factors like a bureaucratic mindset that precludes the provision for profit, a hazy balance-sheet that has anywhere between Rs 17,500 crore and Rs 20,000 crore of debt piled on it and very possibly the inability to move nimbly in the marketplace. For now, though, BSNL CMD Prith Pal Singh is enjoying his moment in the sun. He should be aware, however, that waiting in the wings, along with the competition and the quality-and-value conscious customer, is minister for telecommunications Pramod Mahajan who has broadcast his desire to merge both BSNL and MTNL, ostensibly in a bid to pre-empt any talk of divesting government control in these entities. The minister is not keen to lose control of these comparatively successful public sector undertakings, especially with all that cash lying around. Being the rather accomplished juggler that he has proved to be in recent times, he may actually balance his interest with helping the two corporations stay in step with, if not get ahead of, the competition. Unsurprisingly, the private sector cellular players have publicly cried foul against BSNLs predatory pricing while privately sniggering at the QoS they think it will offer. Given its sheer size and girth, one cannot in all honesty expect the public sector mammoth to morph into a fleet-footed gazelle overnight. The aggressive pricing was a strong start that can provide it the initial momentum. Whether it can sustain the pace and reach the 4 million mark by next March, against the competitions 8 million plus, will be decided by the quality of its service.