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Kochi-Lakshadweep subsea cable to be laid by NEC despite Indian telecom bodies crying foul

The KLI project meant to deliver 200 Gbps of bandwidth to the islands, faced allegations that its tender conditions were unfair.

After the 2,300 kilometer-long submarine cable between Chennai and Andaman & Nicobar Islands (CANI) was launched last year, the Lakshadweep Islands are set to get one as well – and much to the dismay of Indian telecom equipment manufacturers, it will be in partnership with the same foreign company that was behind CANI.

According to a report by the Hindu BusinessLine, Japanese conglomerate NEC’s Indian subsidiary NEC Technologies India has won the bid for the Rs 1,072-crore Kochi Lakshadweep Islands (KLI) project. NEC had previously laid down the CANI submarine cable in partnership with state-owned telecom operator Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL).

The submarine cable network in the Lakshadweep Islands is expected to provide a capacity of 200 Gigabytes per second (Gbps) to all 11 islands of the archipelago, connecting it with Kochi. According to a 2019 report by the government’s Universal Service Obligation Fund, the islands currently have 352 Megabytes per second (Mbps) satellite bandwidth. Earlier this year, multiple Indian telecom bodies wrote to the government saying that the tender for the project disqualified everyone but the NEC from winning the bid.

Claims of unfair tender conditions

According to a report, the Telecom Equipment Manufacturers Association (TEMA) and the PHD Chambers of Commerce wrote 20 letters in February, before the tender was even released, objecting to BSNL’s decision of framing the tender along the lines of the CANI project. These letters, sent to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Cabinet Secretary, Principle Scientific Advisor, NITI Aayog CEO, Telecom Secretary, USOF Administrator, and the BSNL CMD, claimed that the eligibility criteria of the tender restricted companies from applying for it.

TEMA and PHD also objected to the tender’s requirement for ‘Repeatered Technology’ in the project, which they said would unnecessarily add to the cost of the project. Repeatered Technology is used to boost signals over those distances that optical fibre cables cannot relay the signal.

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A senior official told BusinessLine that only one company met the criteria and got eligible. The official added that the project was approved by the Digital Communications Commission at its last meeting.

PM Modi declared KLI completion by 2023

Last year, during the Independence Day celebrations at Red Fort, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly announced that the KLI project would be complete in the ‘next 1000 days’.

In March, Israeli firm NovelSat announced that it had been awarded a contract from Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited to expand satellite internet access in the Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep Islands.

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I cover health and education technology for MediaNama. Reach me at anushka@medianama.com

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