The Indian government is reported to have allocated 529.3billion rupees (about US$6.4 billion) in its recent budget for infrastructure installation and upgrades for both state-owned operators – BSNL and MTNL – this year.
This money will fund new towers, upgrading of existing towers to 4G and 5G and a revamp of landline systems. For BSNL the allocation is part of a revival package that was announced in July last year that came to an eye-watering 1.640 trillion rupees (a little under $20 billion).
The Economic Times news service says an indigenous telecom stack setup for the BSNL 4G network has been tested and BSNL plans to launch its 4G mobile services soon. Testing for locally developed 4G solutions on a live network will start this month.
The reference to locally developed solutions is highly relevant. As we reported at the time, BSNL was forced to cancel a 4G equipment tender in 2020 due to restrictive conditions for domestic firms. It can now only use equipment from domestic companies.
BSNL’s 4G services are seen as an important part of government plans to provide high-speed broadband connections in every village within a year. Mobile connectivity will be complimented by the BharatNet fibre optic network programme.
This investment could be seen as a vote of confidence in BSNL despite its massive ongoing debts, though it comes at a time when a number of private players have already launched 5G services in many cities across India. It's not clear how the money is to be shared between BSNL and the smaller MTNL.
One problem, however, involves a Tata Consultancy Services (TCS)-Centre For Development Of Telematics (C-DOT) consortium that is supposed to be rolling out BSNL’s 4G network, which will eventually be upgraded to 5G – ideally about a year after the order was placed under the contract.
However, in mid-January the Hindu newspaper reported that no work was in progress on putting up 4G towers for the BSNL network, making the government’s aim of installing 25,000 towers in 500 days announced in October difficult. In addition, at that time, the consortium had not started field trials.