State-run BSNL has awarded a contract worth Rs 550 crore to Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) for setting up 6,000 4G sites across the country. Initially, the 4G sites will be set up at locations that have high revenue potential and where the infrastructure is 4G-ready, followed by a pan-India rollout later.
BSNL plans to set up over 100,000 4G sites across the country with an outlay of Rs 12,610 crore in three years.
The launch of BSNL 4G services has already been delayed by over two years. The telecom firm has been talking about launching 4G services since 2019 but in 2020, it was forced to cancel a tender due to restrictive conditions for domestic firms. After that, BSNL was asked by the government to utilise equipment from domestic companies only. Accordingly, BSNL floated an expression of interest (EoI) from local firms to showcase their 4G capabilities. A letter of intent was issued to five vendors including TCS, Tech Mahindra, HFCL, L&T and ITI. But apart from TCS, no other company conducted the trials.
Trials with TCS have been completed now and BSNL has placed an order for 40-watt radios to the company for rolling out the network. Speaking during question hour in Lok Sabha on Wednesday, communications minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said the indigenous 4G telecom network of BSNL will be rolled out soon across the country.
“I am happy to inform you that the 4G telecom network is ready for roll out soon and it is developed in India by Indian engineers and scientists. Our development of 4G network is being appreciated worldwide and it has a core network, radio network with full telecom equipment,” Vaishnaw said. The minister further added that BSNL is in the process of ordering 6,000 towers immediately and then 6,000 more and finally 100,000 towers to be installed all over the country for the 4G network.
With the launch of 4G services, BSNL expects to get back to profitability. The company has been consistently losing revenue and customer market share in the highly competitive telecom market in the country. The lack of 4G services has been the key reason for its losses. “Non-availability of 4G is leading to only low spending subscribers sticking with BSNL which is leading to ARPU (average revenue per user) divergence and customer churn,” BSNL told the government earlier.
The current industry ARPU stands at around Rs 143 but BSNL’s ARPU is only Rs 89.
In October 2019, the government had given a Rs 70,000 crore bailout package to BSNL and MTNL. In the Budget for FY23 also, the government said that it would infuse Rs 44,720 crore into BSNL in FY23.