Close on the heels of its long-anticipated 4G service launch scheduled for next month, the state-run telecom firm BSNL may begin advanced testing of its 5G network equipment by February 2024, people privy to the development said.
According to sources, the Centre for Development of Telematics (CDOT) is working to ensure BSNL launches commercial 5G services by June 2024.
The CDOT, the autonomous body under the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), is currently fine-tuning the standalone (SA) stack that it has indigenously developed for BSNL.
“CDOT is ensuring that not only is the technology developed quickly but teething troubles are caught as soon as possible. As a result, the SA 5G technology is expected to be shared with BSNL in the next four months (February) so that they can begin and advance testing and share feedback,” said one of the sources.
A dedicated team of 200 researchers at CDOT, working on a budget of Rs 400 crore, has already supplied a non-standalone (NSA) 5G core and Radio Access Network (RAN) technology for BSNL.
While that has already been installed at BSNL premises in Chandigarh, the development of the SA core, which is considered to be a technological step up on the NSA core, was set to finish by October, officials said.
The core is the heart of a mobile network, handling a wide variety of essential functions, such as connectivity and mobility management, authentication and authorisation, and subscriber data management, among others.
The NSA core technology leverages existing networking infrastructure, while SA core modernises network infrastructure to suit the myriad needs of enterprises.
The RAN allows the disaggregation of network equipment components, enabling a telecom company to source hardware and software from different vendors for network building.
Meanwhile, BSNL’s plans to launch 4G services years after three private telecom service providers—Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea—rolled it out have repeatedly been delayed.
Company officials said the latest deadline of December can be kept as operational challenges are being quickly cleared. As part of the pilot for 4G, it has deployed 200 sites in three districts of Punjab.
The BSNL board and later a Group of Ministers had awarded a Rs 24,500 crore contract to a TCS-led consortium, which includes CDOT and Tejas Networks, a contract to provide 4G equipment for 1 lakh new telecom towers.
Network gear for about Rs 13,000 crore, as well as third-party items and a 10-year maintenance contract (AMC) is also covered in the contract.
Repeated revival efforts
The government first announced a Rs 69,000-crore revival package for BSNL and MTNL in October 2019. Last year, it approved a second revival package for them amounting to Rs 1.64 trillion.
The move led to BSNL’s authorised capital increasing to Rs 2.1 trillion, up from Rs 1.5 trillion. The Cabinet also approved allotting 4G and 5G spectrum for the company through equity infusion.
It provided BSNL financial support for capital expenditure, viability gap funding for rural landlines, financial support for de-stressing the balance sheet, and settlement of adjusted gross revenue dues, and merger of Bharat Broadband Network Limited with BSNL.
In June, the Cabinet granted the company Rs 89,047 crore as part of a third revival package. As a result of these efforts, the telecom firm has started earning operating profits since FY22. Its total debt has reduced from Rs 32,944 crore to Rs 22,289 crore. Business Standard