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BSNL seeks reservation of 70 MHz spectrum in 3300-3670 MHz bands

Private telecom operators — Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea — may be left with a smaller pool of 5G spectrum to bid for in the 3300 MHz to 3670 Mhz band, if the government agrees to a key demand of state-owned BSNL.

Loss-making BSNL, which till date does not offer 4G services, has urged the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to reserve 70 MHz spectrum in the 3300 MHz to 3670 Mhz band for it.

If the spectrum is reserved for BSNL, it does not need to participate in auctions but would need to pay the auction-determined price whenever it wants to launch the 5G services.

If the government accepts its demand, only 300 MHz spectrum would be left, which would be still enough for the three operators, as a minimum of 100 MHz is required in this band to provide services. However, private operators feel such restrictions should not be placed on them.

According to sources, BSNL chairman and MD PK Purwar has already written a letter urging that 70 MHz in the mid-band spectrum be reserved for the state-owned firm. BSNL’s demand is more than the 40 MHz which the Digital Communications Commission has approved for the company. Apart from that, spectrum in the 600 MHz band as well as the 400 MHz in the millimetre band would also be reserved for BSNL.

The DoT is likely to put forward the demand of BSNL before the Cabinet, which will take a final call on the issue.BSNL is preparing to launch 4G services, utilising the locally-developed core network solution by CDoT and TCS.

The trials for testing the radios and other equipment have already been completed and BSNL has placed an order for installing 6,000 sites to TCS. After successful installation, the state-run firm will install 100,000 4G sites across the country. Both CDoT and TCS are also working on 5G core solution, which is likely to be commercially launched by the end of this year. The 5G stack will be integrated with the 4G network of BSNL.Communications minister Ashwini Vaishnaw had recently said in Parliament that the indigenous 4G telecom network of BSNL would be rolled out soon across the country.

The launch of BSNL 4G services has already been delayed by over two years. The company has been talking about launching 4G services since 2019, but in 2020, it had to cancel a tender due to restrictive conditions for domestic firms.After that, BSNL was mandated by the government to utilise equipment only from domestic companies.

Accordingly, BSNL floated an expression of interest (EoI) for local firms to showcase their 4G capabilities. A letter of intent was then issued to five vendors—TCS, Tech Mahindra, HFCL, L&T and ITI. But apart from TCS, no company has undertaken the trials. Financial Express

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