An employee union for state-run telecom operator BSNL have reacted strongly to the Indian telecom minister’s warning “perform or perish” during a recent meeting with the telco’s chief general managers, arguing that government policies are making it difficult for BSNL to keep up with its private-sector rivals.
Telecoms minister Ashwini Vaishnaw ordered BSNL employees to perform and warned that those who won’t may have to take voluntary retirement. Responding to the minister’s comments, the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited Employees Union (BSNLEU) sent a sharply worded letter to him, alleging that the anti-BSNL and pro-private steps taken regularly by the government have led to the telco’s downfall, and that employees are not responsible for the present-day situation.
BSNL alleges 4G roadblocks
“On 23 October 2019, the government announced a Revival Package for BSNL and MTNL. Allotment of 4G spectrum to BSNL was a part of this Revival Package. However, BSNL was never able to take advantage of this, due to the roadblocks created by the government, in BSNL’s 4G launching,” P. Abhimanyu, general secretary, BSNLEU said in a letter to Vaishnaw.
BSNLEU alleged that BSNL could have easily launched 4G services at least two years ago to be more competitive in the market, but the government didn’t allow it to upgrade its 49,300 existing 2G and 3G base transceiver stations (BTSs) into 4G BTSs.
“This has severely hampered BSNL’s revival,” the union said in its letter.
In fact, Abhimanyu alleged in the letter, BSNL floated a tender in March 2020 to procure 50,000 4G BTSs from domestic and international vendors, but it had to cancel the tender based on a “flimsy complaint” by the Telecom Equipment and Services Export Promotion Council (TEPC).
Vendor choices limited
BSNL was then ordered to only procure equipment from Indian companies, ruling out overseas telecoms vendors such as Nokia and ZTE.
“When all the private companies, viz., Reliance Jio, Airtel, and Vodafone Idea are procuring their equipment from global vendors like Nokia, Ericsson, and Samsung, why BSNL alone should be directed to procure 4G equipment only from Indian vendors?,” the union said.
The telco has now placed an order worth Rs 550-crore ($68 million) to Indian IT major TCS for deploying 6,000 4G sites. TCS is acting as a systems integrator to fulfil the requirement, and has various other players as part of the consortium.
BSNL now plans to deploy more than 100,000 sites across the country for rolling out 4G network services.
The Indian government recently approved a revival package of $20 billion for BSNL.
Related article: BSNL set for deployment of locally-developed 4G network by year-end