State owned telecom operator, BSNL, is rumored to have signed an agreement with Reliance Industries (RIL) subsidiary Infotel Broadband to share its 24,000 towers, according to a report by financialexpress. The tie-up is said to help Infotel speed up the launch its 4G services (BWA) by the end of this year. The report cites people close to the development as its source.

It notes that BSNL was rather a late entrant in the tower renting business and only started to rent its towers in 2010. However, it rents only around 1,500 towers, out of the 70,000  towers that it owns, across India.

We’ll still take it with a pinch of salt, as there have been many rumours related to network equipment sharing arrangements between RIL and other telcos. Earlier, there were reports that had indicated that RIL would partner with Reliance Communications, a part of the ADA Group for its 4G rollout, its towers and pan-India fibre optic network, but then a senior RIL Official was quoted saying that the company would launch operations all by its own and that there would be no partnership with Reliance Communications (RCOM) or GTL for the same, during its annual general body meeting. Prior to that, there were some speculative reports that HFCL might do the ground work for the roll-out but no official confirmation.

Current status of 4G services in India

RIL hasn’t revealed its 4G service rollout strategy yet, and it’s been almost close to two years that the company acquired pan-India BWA spectrum through the acquisition of Infotel Broadband, which had won BWA spectrum in all 22 circles in the country for Rs 12,847.77 crore during the 2010 BWA auctions.

Bharti Airtel had BWA licenses in four circles – Kolkata, Karnataka, Punjab and Maharashtra, and has already launched 4G services in Kolkata and Karnataka circles. Apart from that, Airtel also recently signed an agreement with Qualcomm, under which, it has made an initial investment of approximately $165 million (Rs 927.39 crore approx) to acquire 49% interest in Qualcomm’s India entities that hold BWA/4G licenses in Delhi, Mumbai, Haryana and Kerala.

Neither BSNL not MTNL has launched its 4G service yet. BSNL has been reporting losses for the last three years. The operator was also looking to surrender its BWA spectrum and had received the Department of Telecommunications (DoT)’s nod in December 2011. BSNL had paid Rs 8,313.80 crore to acquire spectrum in 17 circles. Although DoT has accepted BSNL’s request, the company will receive a refund only when the spectrum is put on auction.

Tikona and Aircel who also own 4G licence in select circles have not announced their 4G plans yet.