TRAI official casts doubt on BSNL 4G timeline

25 Mar 2019

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has not yet received a communication from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) regarding the allocation of 4G spectrum to state-backed providers Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL), the Economic Times cites a senior official at the regulator as saying, challenging the government’s claims earlier this month that it had sought a recommendation from the watchdog on the matter. The two telcos have sought the airwaves as part of a revival programme that aims to keep the struggling operators afloat and competitive. The duo lack the spectrum resources to launch 4G services, however, and risk being left behind by their privately-owned competitors. BSNL had submitted a proposal for spectrum back in 2017, asking for 5MHz of 2100MHz frequencies in almost all circles, for which it would pay around INR140 billion (USD2 billion) – 50% to be paid upfront and financed by an equity infusion, whilst the remainder would be paid in ten equal instalments. Complicating matters, though, is a 2012 Supreme Court decision which states that natural resources such as spectrum can only be sold through a public auction.

As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, the DoT said earlier this month that it had asked the TRAI for its opinion on a BSNL’s proposal, to assess whether government-owned entities might be exempted from the Supreme Court’s rule. A TRAI official has now denied that such a request has been made, saying: ‘the regulator would have come out with its suggestions in the earliest possible manner, if it had been asked to do so.’ The statement casts doubt on the long-delayed process and is likely re-write the schedule for BSNL’s nationwide 4G launch: the provider has begun testing the technology and is aiming for a full commercial launch by the end of the year.