P.K. Purwar, chairman and managing director, BSNL

State-run telco Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) has taken significant strides during 2021. In addition to reporting a marked improvement in its financial performance, the telco pushed the pedal on its 4G roll-out. It also obtained a licence for the provision of in-flight and maritime connectivity (IFMC) services. P.K. Purwar, chairman and managing director, BSNL, spoke about the company’s key focus areas and 4G roadmap at various industry events during the past year. Edited excerpts from some of his addresses…

BSNL’s performance

Today, BSNL is an operationally stable or­ganisation and is on the right path with a market share of 10.25 per cent. The only ch­allenge is interest outgo on debt. The co­m­pany has cleared a majority of vendor pay­ments to both multinationals and do­m­estic firms, bringing these down from Rs 30 billion to under Rs 10 billion.

Asset monetisation

Assets worth close to Rs 10 billion belonging to BSNL and Mahanagar Telephone Ni­­­g­am Limited (MTNL) are on sale. This is the first stage of asset monetisation for BSNL and MTNL. BSNL properties lo­cated in Hyderabad, Chandigarh, Bhav­na­gar and Kolkata have been posted for sale at a reserve price of about Rs 6.6 billion. Fur­ther, MTNL assets located in Vasari Hill, Goregaon, Mumbai are for sale at a re­se­rve price of about Rs 3.1 billion. We will pro­ceed as per market demand for asset monetisation. The entire process is planned to be completed soon.

Satellite-based connectivity in Lakshadweep

The government has launched high-capacity satellite-based connectivity for La­ksha­dweep Islands commissioned by BSNL. BSNL commissioned two satellite ga­teways with the latest equipment in Ben­galuru for bandwidth upgradation. The sa­tellite gateways are designed taking into consideration the weather conditions on the island. The latest technology will provide good data speeds even in challenging weather conditions. The bandwidth has been enhanced to more than five times from 318 Mbps to 1.7 Gbps. With this upgradation, Agathi, An­droth, Minicoy and Kavaratti will have 200 Mbps bandwidth each and Amini, Chetlat, Kalpeni, Kadmath, Kiltan and Bitra islands will each have 100 Mbps bandwidth. BSNL is honoured to contribute to this bandwidth augmentation for the people of Laksha­d­w­eep and is committed to executing the sub­marine cable project in a time-bound ma­nner as well.

IFMC services

In October 2021, BSNL, as a strategic partner of Inmarsat, received an IFMC licence from the Department of Telecommuni­ca­ti­ons to offer the latter’s Global Xpress (GX) mobile broadband services. Under this, GX will be available to Indian customers across the go­v­ernment, aviation and maritime sectors. India’s airlines will be able to deploy GX for in-flight connectivity within India and throughout the world, while India’s commercial maritime companies will be able to enhance the digitalisation of their vessels for more effective ship operations and crew welfare services. Global Xpress is recognised as the world’s best high-speed satellite communications service for gover­nment and mobility busi­ne­ss customers and we are very pleased to make these capabilities available to users in India. We app­reci­ate the co­mmitment to excellence sho­wn by the government. Equally, we thank our part­ner Inmarsat for its spirit of collaboration in reaching today’s milestone to help power economic development in India through higher quality connectivity.

4G roadmap

We are planning to upgrade over 90,000 sites around India with 4G, using homegrown technology. Out of the total 90,000 sites, 50,000 would be 4G enabled as a part of the Phase I deployment. The remaining 40,000 sites will be covered under Phase II.

We are working in tandem with the government’s broad objectives to promote Indian technology in line with the Atma­ni­rbhar Bharat ambition. However, since ho­megrown technology has not been dep­loyed anywhere earlier, this could be a business risk. BSNL is trying to overcome the ch­allenges associated with 4G and is going ahead with homegrown technology after the completion of the proof of concept (PoC) in Chandigarh. Once 4G services come in, BSNL will be in a better position in the telecom market. Things are moving in the right direction. We hope that the eq­uipment would be made available soon after the culmination of the network testing exercise. We are looking to place an initial order for 4G equipment for 50,000 sites following the successful outcome of the PoC. We can launch 4G within the next financial year following the PoC, as spectrum is not a challenge.