State-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) on Tuesday launched Bharat 1, a 4G VoLTE feature phone in collaboration with the domestic player Micromax, as part of its new strategy to compete directly with the likes of Reliance Jio and Airtel.
While BSNL has not been able to match up to the competition in recent times, the state-run operator says it is on a mission to turn around its telecom business. On the sidelines of the launch of the Bharat 1 at the company’s Delhi headquarters, Anil Jain, Chief General Manager of NCNGN BSNL, told indianexpress.com that the telecom operator is trying to be aggressive in its approach to compete with private players. “If you ask people in Jio they say the only competitor they have is BSNL. Right from Day One, if you see various tariff plans which we have brought, whether it is voice or data plan and now a bundled service; I don’t think that anybody like Airtel, Vodafone or anybody has matched up to that level,” Jain said.
Bharat 1 is the company’s first-ever 4G VoLTE feature phone in partnership with Micromax. The feature phone comes with entry-level specifications and offers unlimited data and voice calling every month for a sum of Rs 97. The feature phone, which costs Rs 2,200, will come preloaded with the Bharat Interface for Money (BHIM) app and other suite of services. Unlike the JioPhone, Bharat 1 is not locked to any operator, something that may urge users to choose the latter phone over the former one.
Jain says there are plans to launch more 4G VoLTE-ready feature phones into market by tying up with phone makers. Interestingly, the telecom operator might launch a smartphone as well, though the exact details have yet to be disclosed. “Both possibilities are there; we may bring more variety of feature phones with cost effectiveness as well as a smartphone can also be there”.
Until now, BSNL has been focusing on the rural and semi-rural markets. But with the Bharat 1 and an upcoming smartphone launch, BSNL is possibly trying to enter the urban space, the area where private operators have dominated from the very beginning. “When a smartphone is coming then we are talking about the urban audience. If you see the total segregation of the telephone and handset user; now again it is skewed towards the urban area,” Jain told indianexpress.com. “We are very strong in the rural and semi urban markets that was the area which is ignored by other operators which we try to fulfill but we cannot forget the urban sector,” he added.
BSNL sees the launch of a 4G feature phone with Micromax as an attempt to enter the urban market in a big way. “It is a strategy from Micromax also, with the help of BSNL to have a bigger space in urban areas,” Jain said.
Even though the Bharat 1 is a 4G VoLTE-ready feature phone, BSNL doesn’t offer 4G VoLTE services in the country. So the Rs 97 plan being offered with the Bharat 1 is 3G only. In comparison, Reliance Jio has been offering voice over LTE (VoLTE) services in the country. “We are in discussion with the government to allow us to rollout 4G on LTE,” Jain said. It’s being said BSNL may rollout nationwide 4G LTE services by next year.