The government approved the merger of Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL) with Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) in July 2022 to expand BSNL’s fibre reach. A flagship mission of BBNL, BharatNet aims to connect 650,000 villages to the digital highway by 2025. With the experience it has gathered on fibre roll-outs in the past two to three years, BSNL will help make BharatNet a reality.

BharatNet architecture

BharatNet’s basic programme consists of block exchange where it has over 6,000 points of presence with gigabit passive optical network (GPON) equipment or optical line terminal equipment (OLTE) installed. Further, there are gram panchayats with schools and other institutional set-ups that need to be connected at the first level. 4G and 5G mobile towers are also connected in rural areas, so the customers who become part of the radio coverage will benefit because of the fibre backhauling.

BBNL-BSNL merger

The government approved the National Optical Fibre Network in October 2011 to connect approximately 250,000 gram panchayats. Phase I of the project aimed at connecting 100,000 gram panchayats through three central PSUs – BSNL, RailTel and Power Grid Corporation of India Limited. The project was renamed BharatNet in 2015. In that period, eight states onboarded the state-led model for 65,559 gram panchayats.

In February 2022, the government announced that all 650,000 villages would be connected by 2025. An important step towards making this happen was the merger of BBNL and BSNL, which the government approved in July 2022. With the merger, BSNL will now act as an enabler for all internet service providers to roll out fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) services to rural homes.

BharatNet implementation

So far, 119,247 gram panchayats have been covered under Phase I of the BharatNet project. Meanwhile, 59,673 gram panchayats have been covered under Phase II, of which 54,541 are on optical fibre cable and the remaining 5,132 are on satellite. With this, a total of 179,000 out of 223,000 gram panchayats have been taken up under the BharatNet project.

Steps taken by BSNL for BharatNet utilisation

BSNL revamped its information technology (IT) systems to enable BharatNet utilisation and provide a seamless experience to its rural partners and customers. BSNL has already covered over 4,000 gram panchayats or over 10,000 villages in the past six months. Moreover, 1,494 base transceiver stations are connected using BharatNet fibre across India. This is the fastest movement possible in a partner ecosystem, highlighting the significant de­mand-supply gap of digital connectivity in the rural areas of the country.

Today, more than 90 per cent of BSNL’s customer onboarding at the gram panchayat/village level is happening through the digital know-your-customer process throu­gh its FTTH partners, as compared to 80-85 per cent in the urban parts of the country. Further, a centralised network operations centre has been set up in Bengaluru for uptime monitoring of the network.

Growth of BharatNet

BharatNet has witnessed remarkable pro­gress between May 2022 and September 2022. The number of OLTE integrated with BharatNet stood at only 43 in May 2022, but has rapidly increased to 261 in September 2022. Meanwhile, the data traffic of BharatNet FTTH broadband has more than doubled from 459.17 TB in May 2022 to 926.57 TB in September 2022, reflecting the significant improvement in customer confidence and experience. Further, the per customer per mo­nth data traffic has already crossed 45 GB, as compared to 150-180 GB in urban areas. This type of data consumption and connectivity will tremendously accelerate economic growth, encouraging e-commerce, warehouses and other industries to shift to rural India.

Based on a presentation by Vivek Dua, General Manager, Consumer Fixed Access, BSNL