State-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd may be taking lead from private operators for a share in the pie of 4G-LTE services, but wants to remain cautious about its capital appetite before rolling out 4G. Chairman and Managing Director Anupam Shrivastava, in an interview with Pranav Mukul, explains in detail the company’s plan to deal with the 4G wave. Edited excerpts:
Could we see BSNL launching 4G?
We do not have good quality 4G spectrum, and to begin with, we do not have that kind of capital appetite to go for that kind 4G spectrum. We feel that it’s a very risky proposition. We calculated that we need to spend roughly about Rs 25,000-30,000 crore if we need to have pan-India 4G spectrum. This is the exposure we’ll have to have. We need to invest equivalent of our one year’s topline. That’s why our strategy is very clear. We will utilise our own resources in the best possible manner. Unlike private operators, we have huge landline assets, so we are thinking in terms of utilising our landline assets that is our optical fibre and copper cable, and come out with wi-fi hotspots. Now, these wi-fi hotspots do not need any spectrum expansion, and they work in two ways — extension of broadband services, and they can be linked with 2G, 3G networks that we have so it works like 4G hotspot. So 4G of BSNL is coming through wi-fi hotspots mainly.
How many of such wi-fi hotspots does BSNL plan to have across the country?
We have already installed 2,504 wi-fi hotspots, and in the next two years we are going to put in about 40,000 more, and they will be integrated with our mobile network in such a way that they will virtually work as 4G. This means when you move from 3G or 2G to our wi-fi hotspot, the data session will seamlessly takeover 4G. That’s our main strategy to deal with 4G.
How well is BSNL placed today in the immensely competitive Indian telecom industry?
Indian telecom industry is passing through a very interesting phase. What we’re seeing is the revival also because now the emphasis is on data and that is playing a driving role. All the stakeholders of telecom industry are keeping a focus on this driver. Everybody is gaining from this driver. Yet, the entry of Reliance Jio can make a real difference, and so there is an opportunity as well as a threat. There is an absolute opportunity in the direction that we’re seeing in terms of data growth, yet there is a threat of a very strong new player coming in, which could initiate a new type of competition where although the customer would benefit, the company would have to be very cautious and careful.
How do you perceive the entry of Reliance Jio with context to BSNL? Is it more of a threat or an opportunity?
For BSNL, we see that Reliance Jio’s entry is going to be an opportunity for the simple reason that Reliance Jio is going to compete in a sphere with private operators…BSNL is in a different segment. It’s is a landline incumbent operator. None of the other players are landline incumbent operators, their fight for data services is mainly through spectrum. 80-90 per cent of their fight is on the basis of spectrum. BSNL can live with very low data charges, and that data capacity can come from landline, optical fibre that BSNL has. We are totally focussing on this aspect where there is no challenge to us. In that competitive war, BSNL is not going to be hit as much as other operators as we are an optical fibre operator. If the data rates go down, we can still manage and remain profitable.