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BSNL to roll out 4G services in 18-24 months, IT Ministry tells Parliament

We missed this earlier: BSNL is looking to roll out its 4G services in 18-24 months, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) told Parliament earlier this week. The state-owned telco has invited an Expression of Interest (EoI) on January 1, 2021 for registration and proof of concept from Indian companies interested in participating in BSNL’s upcoming 4G tender, the ministry said.

The question was posed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor in the Lok Sabha. Tharoor wanted to know if the government plans to upgrade BSNL equipment sourced from China that is currently in use for 2G and 3G services. More than half of equipment used by BSNL was acquired by controversial Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE, according to a Parliamentary answer from September 2020. Sanjay Dhotre, Minister of State, MEITY did not answer the question directly, and instead said that BSNL would follow all applicable rules of the government for procurement.

While this wasn’t mentioned in the answer, earlier this month the Department of Telecommunications had amended the Unified Access Service License to prevent telcos from obtaining equipment from untrustworthy vendors. This is largely expected to target Chinese companies. “The government through the Designated Authority [the National Cyber Security Coordinator] will have the right to impose conditions for procurement of Telecommunication Equipment on grounds of Defence of India, or matters directly or indirectly related thereto, for national security,” the order had said.

Full text of question and answer (March 17)

DR. SHASHI THAROOR:

Will the Minister of COMMUNICATIONS be pleased to state:

(a) whether the Government has allowed Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) to go ahead with the rollout of 4G services and if so, the details thereof;

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(b) whether the Government will allow BSNL to upgrade equipment from China which is already being used for 2G and 3G services and if so, the details thereof and if not, the reasons for the same;

(c) whether the Government has prepared a timeline in which BSNL will be able to undertake a full-fledged rollout of 4G services and if so, the details thereof; and

(d) whether the outsourcing of maintenance work by BSNL has led to many delays in the repairing of faults and procurement of new equipment in Kerala?

ANSWER
MINISTER OF STATE FOR COMMUNICATIONS, EDUCATION AND ELECTRONICS & INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY (SHRI SANJAY DHOTRE)

(a) to (c) The Government approved the revival plan for Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) on 23.10.2019, which inter-alia includes administrative allotment of spectrum for 4G services through budgetary allocation to BSNL. BSNL has invited an Expression of Interest (EoI) on 01.01.2021 for prior registration/Proof of Concept (PoC) from Indian companies interested in participating in BSNL’s upcoming 4G tender.
BSNL will follow the applicable Rules/guidelines/Public Procurement orders of the Government including Rule 144(xi) of the General Financial Rules, 2017 in this regard.

BSNL expects the roll out of 4G services to be completed in 18- 24 months.(d) BSNL has informed that the faults booked have shown a reduction after outsourcing. Procurement of new equipment is not done through outsourcing agencies for maintenance work.

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