State-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam (BSNL) is targeting to commercially launch 4G services in April, and has started getting supply of indigenous equipment from the Tata Consultancy Services (TCS)-led consortium, people aware of the matter said. The supply of equipment is part of the pre-order for 200 sites to initially launch 4G in parts of three districts of Punjab – Ferozepur, Pathankot and Amritsar.
The development comes after communications minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said last week that BSNL has deployed the first indigenous ‘eNodeB’ hardware to launch 4G. eNodeB is a wireless base station used to carry communication between mobile and cellular networks with LTE or 4G technology.
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“While the government is expected to approve the complete tender to TCS
“We are expecting to complete about 100 sites for 4G launch by the middle of March, and if everything goes as per the timeline, the commercial launch will happen in parts of Punjab in April,” the official said.
Last month, the BSNL board approved a Rs 24,500-crore deal with a TCS-led consortium, which includes Tejas Networks and C-DoT. Now, the approval on the deal is pending with a group of ministers, according to officials. Apart from the TCS consortium, state-owned telecom equipment maker ITI
“There is no delay (in offering tender by BSNL for procuring equipment). It is a very complex transaction…but the process has started,” Vaishnaw had said last week.
In an interview with FE last month, telecom secretary K Rajaraman also said: “This is a complicated tender because of the involvement of new technology, etc. It is not like a commodity which we can straightaway buy from the market. This is a very special tender. Therefore, people are taking all the precautions to ensure that everything is on board. We are in the final stages of evaluation.”
As part of the proof of concept last year, the indigenous 4G, 5G stack by BSNL in December was also tested for 10 million simultaneous phone calls, according to the government.
“The indigenous equipment has been successfully tested. However, once we roll out 4G on these sites commercially, we will see what kind of challenges come up as it is a new technology and there can be some initial hiccups. These sites are also immediately upgradable to 5G,” another government official said.
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Owing to the delay in the launch of 4G services, BSNL lost 7.7 million mobile subscribers last year, taking its total base to 106.6 million at the end of December, according to data from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).
The company is currently surviving on the government’s bailout package of Rs 1.64 trillion. During the April-December period of the current fiscal, BSNL’s revenues in 13 circles saw a sharp decline, leading to the company’s chairman and managing director issuing a warning to the chief general managers of the circles concerned.
While the company’s overall revenue during the nine-month period grew 14% year-on-year to Rs 12,748 crore, its net losses increased to Rs 5,457 crore from Rs 5,424 crore a year ago due to an increase in expenses such as employee costs.