India’s BSNL union suggests network sharing with Vodafone Idea

India’s BSNL union suggests network sharing with Vodafone Idea

An intervention by the employees union of Indian state-owned operator BSNL, suggesting that BSNL should engage in a limited network sharing deal with private operator Vodafone Idea, has highlighted concerns about the speed – or otherwise – of BSNL’s 4G rollout.

P Abhimanyu, General Secretary of BSNL employee’s union, in a recent letter to Communications Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, apparently reminded the minister that the government of India is Vi’s largest shareholder and that he should use the 4G network of Vi to help BSNL provide a nationwide 4G service to its customers, at least until BSNL’s 4G network is commissioned by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). TCS is carrying out the rollout of the 4G mobile network and has a few thousand sites already up and running.

However, that rollout may not be quick enough for BSNL. All three major private operators offer 4G pretty much all over India and both Reliance Jio and Airtel have 5G, a big attraction for end users that BSNL can’t compete with.

In fact a month ago India’s Economic Times news service quoted the union as suggesting the operator was losing millions of customers a year: September last year alone apparently saw an estimated 2,326,751 leave. BSNL’s subscriber base has come down to 95.53 million, well behind even Vi (at 215.2 million according to recent estimates), let alone Reliance Jio (455.82 million) or Bharti Airtel (397 million).

BSNL had planned pan-India 4G services for October 2024. This date has been put back to December 2024; the union leader suggested that this is due to delays in the delivery and installation of 4G equipment to BSNL by TCS.

Further delays cannot be ruled out and could benefit BSNL’s rivals, not to mention undermining the revival package offered by the government. Hence the urgency of the union’s request, though there is no indication yet that the government will take up its suggestion.

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