Residents of border states lacking mobile and data connectivity can breathe a sigh of relief, with state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) beginning work on installing 20,000 4G towers.
The telecom operator has been assigned the work of ensuring connectivity at all far-flung areas under the government’s 4G saturation plan, an official aware of the plans said.
“BSNL has started the work already. About 25,000 villages will be covered by 4G, most of which do not have any connectivity, which is why it is important to bring connectivity to these areas,” the official said, requesting anonymity.
The project, which was approved by the Union cabinet last July, got underway only in February this year. The government has earmarked ₹26,316 crore for the project from the Universal Service Obligation Fund. It is expected to be executed over 500 days.
“The government’s aim is to bring 4G to all areas across the country. It so happens that several of such areas are in states that have borders with other countries, while in some states, the number of towers is low in locations where the terrain is unfavourable,” a second official said, adding some of the towers could well be outside the border states, but fall within the 4G saturation plan.
The installation of these towers coincides with BSNL’s own rollout of 4G services under the technology stack developed by India’s Centre For Development Of Telematics, or C-DoT. The telco has already set up 200 4G sites in Punjab as a pilot and will begin commercial launch this month. BSNL placed an advance purchase order of more than ₹15,000 crore with Tata Consultancy Services and ITI Ltd in May.
The second official said the project would cover 24,680 villages without connectivity, which will require 16,464 towers. These will be set up, run, and maintained by BSNL in states, several of which are likely to fall in the North East region as well as regions where the tower density is low. An additional provision of about 5,000 villages has been provided, which will mean an additional 3,258 towers, taking the total to over 19,700 towers covering more than 29,000 villages.
India has about 640,000 villages, of which 575,000 have been covered by mobile telephony and data connectivity. Some continue to have only 2G or 3G. Under the 4G saturation plan, the government wants to connect all villages with 4G services by 2024.
In most parts of the country, private telecom service providers, including Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, and Vodafone Idea, offer their voice and data services, covering over 1 billion people, while BSNL covers over 100 million.
However, the carrier also serves the country’s communication needs for strategic purposes as it offers services in remote areas as well as areas having tough terrain where private operators have no or limited reach. Livemint