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DoT May Allow 4G-Only Condition In Rs 2200 Crore Telecom Project

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is considering to allow only fourth-generation or 4G operators to bid for a Rs 2,195 crore worth of telecom connectivity initiative that could make the state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) incompetent following nonavailability of mandatory next-generation of services.

“The telecom department (DoT) has changed tender terms from 2G to 2G+4G, and now considering to mandate 4G only in a telecom project covering as many as 10 states affected by Left-Wing Extremism (LWE) ” a source who do not wanted to be identified told ETT.

In May 2019, the Cabinet has approved the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA)-backed telecom connectivity program worth Rs 2,194.83 crore for 3,465 towers for the deployment in Naxalite–Maoist insurgency hit areas across Red Corridor.

People privy to the matter said that both Sunil Mittal-driven Bharti Airtel and billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio have now shown much interest in the state-funded connectivity program.

Any move to forgo 2G condition would mean newer incumbent could also participate.

In 2016, Jio has commercially launched pure-play 4G services in the country while rival Bharti Airtel runs both 2G and 4G services. BSNL operates 2G and 3G networks only.

Queries to DoT as well as Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio didn’t elicit any response.

In November 2019, the department has floated a tender asking for 2G+4G services from the earlier second-generation (2G) technology only condition.

However, in 2016, BSNL had completed the previous phase by deploying 2,355 towers in a record time. But this time round, the department has virtually debarred the state-controlled telecom carrier by mandating fourth-generation (4G) which the telco lacks even today.

With the lowest average revenue per user worldwide, incumbent operators have lately started eyeing ambitious connectivity programs to resuscitate their income.

The Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), the DoT’s funding arm has floated the request for proposal (RFP) for the LWE extension or LWE II program seeking a company to supply, deployment and maintain towers in Red Corridor region across multiple states such as Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Bihar and West Bengal, has been extended thrice since then.

USOF is a Rs 50,000 crore government reserve meant to bridge digital divide in India’s rural and remote regions.

Earlier, BSNL proposed massive savings from the originally-conceived plan by cutting the cost down to Rs 78.23 lakh per tower from a whopping 1.8 crores proposed by the USOF.

However, the department looked otherwise and in a note earlier said, “BSNL proposal will entail a lower grade of service with deficiencies.”

Early this month, the telco’s employee groups have sought state-funded programs on nomination basis, citing security concerns and argued that the ongoing rescue plan devised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government might not yield desired results.―Gadgets Now

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