India’s local telecom vendors hopeful of winning BSNL 4G deal

BSNL 4G India
Photo by lakshmi Prasad |

India’s home-bred telecom gear vendors expect to win meaningful business from Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) for its nationwide 4G network. On January 1, the state-run telecom invited applications from Indian companies to provide equipment for the rollout of 4G service in the country.

Vendors like Tejas Networks, Sterlite Technologies and ITI Limited are currently in a process to hook up with system integrator partners who will then bid for the tender for 57,000 4G sites across north, east, west and south zones.

Tata Consultancy Services Ltd, Tech Mahindra Ltd and Larsen & Toubro (L&T) have reportedly emerged as the main contenders to bid for the tender as system integrators for the BSNL 4G contract.

Some companies have already entered into commercial partnerships for the BSNL tender. For instance, ITI Limited recently signed a commercial agreement with Tech Mahindra for 4G and 5G equipment in India.

Bengaluru-based GPON major Tejas Networks has developed its own 4G radio access network (RAN) to bid for the BSNL tender.

“We have been investing in the area of wireless 4G equipment and will partner with system integrators to bid for BSNL’s 4G tender. The same equipment is upgradeable to 5G. We will submit a proof of concept (PoC) with our partner soon.”

Sanjay Nayak, CEO and MD, Tejas Networks was quoted as saying by the Economic Times.

Sterlite Technologies (STL) also claimed that it had developed an end-to-end multi-band radio solution for 4G and next-generation 5G networks. It has also inked a pact with VVDN Technologies to manufacture 4G and 5G equipment locally.

Tejas, Sterlite and ITI Limited along with other players like HFCL, will soon submit a proof of concept (PoC) for the BSNL contract.

As per the BSNL notice issued on January 1, the telco will test the quality of telecom equipment from Indian vendors through PoCs before letting them participate in the 4G tender.

“To ascertain the eligibility of bidders in the upcoming 4G tender of BSNL keeping in consideration the spirit of the ”Aatmanirbhar Bharat”…to promote indigenous manufacturing of telecom sector, BSNL invites proposal though …expression of interest for prior registration/proof of concept from Indian companies interested in participating in the BSNL”s upcoming 4G tender…” BSNL said in its expressions of interest (EoI) document.

BSNL last week said that only the bidders, who get themselves registered through the EoI would be eligible to participate in the upcoming 4G tender. Indian companies should have their own intellectual property right of the core equipment and right to modify source code of the equipment.

As per the notice, home-bred vendors with financial turnover of Rs 2,500 crore or $3.38 billion in the last three financial years or calendar year can participate in the 4G tender.

Multinational vendors like Nokia, Samsung and Ericsson will not be able to provide 4G core network to BSNL. However, they can bid for the 4G RAN after depositing their source code in an escrow account.

As per media reports, these global companies are unlikely to provide their source code for the BSNL tender due to security and business-related reasons, which will increase chances for home-bred vendors.

“The escrowed version of the software shall be upgraded/updated regularly and will be the same as the version in the field,” BSNL’s EoI notice said.

The Department of Telecommunications secretary Anshu Prakash told Mint newspaper that BSNL and MTNL 4G procurement is a “great opportunity” for Indian companies to manufacture and supply world-class telecom network equipment.

Prakash said that BSNL’s initiative to allow home-bred vendors’ bid for its 4G equipment after quality tests of their products would pave the way for players such as Tejas Networks Ltd and Sterlite Technologies Ltd, reducing India’s dependency on global firms.

The existing 2G and 3G network of 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. Both will be barred from participating in the tender.

European vendors Nokia and Ericsson have also provided telecom equipment to the telecom operator under phase 8 and phase 5 GSM expansion projects.

Interestingly, BSNL recently raised concerns over the Department of Telecommunications’ recommendation to use only local equipment for the 4G network. It believes that indigenous equipment is unproven and will increase the overall deployment cost.

 The Telecom Committee of PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PHDCCI), which represents home-bred vendors, also suggested that India may have to shell out some higher cost to buy indigenous technologies through BSNL.

“…but within a few years, it will reap 100’s of billion dollars’ worth of additional GDP and huge tax collection on top of adding highly paying jobs for tech India and the manufacturing sector,” it said in a statement.

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