BSNL invites EoI for 4G network by Indian firms

In a recent letter to department of telecommunications (DoT), BSNL has said in some instances, local equipment is 88% expensive compared with global suppliers.

More than six months after BSN’s 4G tender was cancelled because of complaints that it does not promote homegrown companies, the government has decided that only Indian companies can provide core network for the network, a move hailed by the local firms. The government feels that a locally designed and manufactured network for BSNL provides an opportunity to the country to become self-reliant in telecom. It expects that firms like Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Tech Mahindra, etc., can play a pivotal role in times to come as future telecom networks will be software -driven.

BSNL has accordingly come out with an expression of interest (EoI) for the upcoming 4G tender for installation of around 57,000 sites.

As per the government, only Indian companies, registered and headquartered in India, can provide core network of BSNL. Companies like Nokia, Samsung and Ericsson will not be able to participate for providing core network. As per the EoI, the core shall be Indian and the IPR or licence/copyright for the source code of the software should be owned by an Indian company, and it must have unrestricted, irrevocable access and licence to modify the source code and provide software support for all future versions of the software.

For the radio network like base tower stations (BTS), these global firms can bid but they need to deposit their source code in an escrow account. “The escrowed version of the software shall be upgraded/updated regularly and will be the same as the version in the field,” the EoI said.

Also, 20% of the radio network will be reserved for ITI, which can partner any Indian company for sourcing the equipment. Chinese firms like Huawei and ZTE will be barred from participating in the tender.

“Telecom is a critical sector. BSNL 4G network procurement is a great opportunity to build Indian telecom stack. 5G networks will also initially ride on 4G core. It is time that Indian multi-national companies commence world class telecom manufacturing,” telecom secretary Anshu Prakash told FE. He also refuted concerns around the quality and capability of Indian firms with regard to telecom equipment manufacturing. BSNL employees’ union has also criticised the government for forcing the company to buy equipment from local companies, calling their products “sub-standard”.

BSNL, too, has put forth its concerns around using local equipment for 4G network before a DoT-appointed technical committee as well as NITI Aayog, but so far the issues raised by it have not been accepted. The telco has already stated that equipment made by local firms is expensive as well as sub-standard. In a recent letter to department of telecommunications (DoT), BSNL has said in some instances, local equipment is 88% expensive compared with global suppliers.

But a DoT committee did not agree with the concerns and decided to go ahead with local firms through a system integrator model to roll out the 4G network of BSNL. For Indian companies, which have not proved their technical capabilities, they will be given a chance to demonstrate their technology. If the companies successfully complete the trials, they will be eligible to participate in the tender.

“We welcome the positive step to encourage use of indigenous telecom products by BSNL and DoT in their 4G network. I am confident that Indians have the capability and the domestic industry is well geared to deliver world-class products and realise the vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat in the strategically important telecom sector,” Sanjay Nayak, MD & CEO, Tejas Networks, told FE.

As per Telecom Equipment Manufacturers Association of India (Tema), a body of local telecom equipment firms, it is time for the industry to show and prove its capabilities. “The requirement of Indian core and source code will go a long way to promote Atmanirbhar telecom bharat. This is one of the rarest and boldest decisions taken for Atmanirbhar Bharat,” NK Goyal, chairman emeritus, Tema, said.

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