India may follow system integrator route to deploy BSNL’s 4G network

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India is likely to allow IT service providers like Tech Mahindra to apply for state-run telco BSNL’s large scale 4G tender through the system integrator model, which has been recommended by the committee formed by Department of Telecommunications (DoT).

In its recommendations to India’s telecom and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, the DoT committee said that only Indian companies should be allowed to provide core network elements to BSNL’s network.

The committee also recommended that state-run telecom equipment maker ITI Limited be allowed to provide 20% of equipment with an Indian technology collaborator.

The committee was formed in June to chart out a network upgrade plan for the state-run telecom operator after the Indian government scrapped the 4G tender in the backdrop of heightened India-China border tensions. The initial tender was released for 50,000 4G sites in India.

Multinationals like Samsung, Nokia, Ericsson, and ZTE were aiming to participate in the upcoming tender and had also bought the tender document.

Notably, ITI Limited has already entered into a commercial agreement with Tech Mahindra to make 4G and in future 5G RAN equipment in India. Tech Mahindra, on the other hand, has made its intentions to bid for the BSNL tender with its partner-led approach under the system integrator model.

Tech Mahindra is also working with Japan’s newest telecom operator Rakuten to take the latter’s Rakuten Communications Platform to global telecom operators, including Indian service providers. 

Recommending system integrators to participate as lead bidders, the committee said that these system integrators can work with technology consortium partners to supply the core and RAN equipment to the state-run telecom operator. 

“A comprehensive Indian telecom stack needs to be put together with focus on indigenous manufacturing and national security,” the committee said in its report to the telecom minister. 

“Indian vendors need to pass through PoC (Proof of Concept) for provenness of the product… not more than two system integrators can offer PoC for Indian core,” the committee said.

The Economic Times reported that the government committee has also recommended all vendors that are looking to participate in the tender process will need to submit their equipment and solutions source code.

“The source code should be deposited in an escrow account. The escrow version of the software shall be the same as the version in the field. The source code should be compiled with non-proprietary compilers by the supplier and installed in the field. Same conditions apply for the RAN equipment also,” it said, as quoted by the publication. 

The existing 2G and 3G network of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) has largely been built by Chinese vendors ZTE and Huawei.

More than 44% mobile network equipment of state-run BSNL is sourced from ZTE, while 9% equipment from Huawei, the Indian government revealed on Thursday. European vendors Nokia and Ericsson have also provided telecom equipment to the telecom operator under phase 8 and phase 5 GSM expansion projects, respectively. 

“The Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) procure and deploy telecom equipment from vendors based on their techno-commercial interests provided they adhere to the security provisions given in the licence. Hence, no such data is maintained by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT),” Minister of State for Communications Sanjay Dhotre said while informing the Indian Parliament on Thursday. 

The DoT committee has asked the Indian government to stop further investment in the 2G technology and recommended that the latest BSNL tender should be 4G only. 

Notably, BSNL hasn’t received 4G spectrum from the telecom department (DoT) despite receiving approval from the Indian government in October 2019 as part of revival measures.

The report, however, said that BSNL opposed the recommendation and said that it still needs 2G gear in India to service customers. The telco wants “a common BBU (2G+4G) BTS” for around 22,500 sites. 

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