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Why MTNL should open up to Ola, Paytm and others as Virtual Network Operators

(with inputs from Salman SH) State run telco MTNL has been struggling: it has had a continuous streak of losses since Q1 FY15, and reported a loss of Rs 705 crore in its last quarter, with its operational revenue (at Rs 767 crore) pretty close to its loss. Many (though not all) of its privately owned rivals are growing: making profits, and adding customers, while MTNL has the lowest GSM subscriber base among 7 telcos with just over 2 million active mobile connections as of February, and 1.1 million broadband connection. In Q3FY16, MTNL’s cellular (voice and data) accounted for just 20.95% of total revenue. Nothing went well after MTNL’s Rs 6564 crore spectrum purchase during March 2010 auctions. As an MTNL customer (for both Wireline and Wireless), I can tell you that their service suffers from poor reliability on wireline broadband, very slow repairs when the connection goes down, and spotty connectivity in several parts of the city, although when it works, the mobile data speeds are much better than Airtel's. They have bizarre rules: for example, a customer needs to give a written application for a change of plan. They need better infrastructure: they're unwilling to give a connection of higher than 4mbps, though I'm willing to pay for it. So what can be done? The need for MTNL has always been one of unbundling the last mile: it has connections which reach peoples homes (and hence right-of-way), and exchanges all across the two cities of Delhi and Mumbai. Instead of MTNL trying…

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Founder @ MediaNama. TED Fellow. Asia21 Fellow @ Asia Society. Co-founder SaveTheInternet.in and Internet Freedom Foundation. Advisory board @ CyberBRICS

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