India's BSNL seeks faster 4G upgrade

India's BSNL seeks faster 4G upgrade

5G may be a major talking point just about everywhere, but 4G migration is still underway in many markets. The board of state-owned Indian operator Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) has recently approved two vendors for a 4G migration project worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

ZTE and Nokia will manage the migration of as many as 49,300 2G and 3G sites to 4G in an undertaking worth about $303 million, according to reports in the Indian media. In many ways this choice is about cost and speed – an upgrade route that offers the shortest timeline for 4G rollout – because, says BSNL, 60 percent of working sites can be upgraded via the original equipment makers: ZTE and Nokia presumably.

This means, essentially, that tenders have been abandoned for reasons of time, in favour of less disruption and a four-to-six month rollout re-employing the same providers, rather than a competitive process taking a potential 18-20 months.

Where this leaves BSNL in terms of competition with its much stronger, and more 4G-ready, privately owned rivals is hard to say. Certainly 4G is close to a minimum requirement for many subscribers these days, and a relatively cost-effective upgrade would make sense, especially given the financial problems BSNL has faced in recent months.

As we reported in recent months, these have included vendors that have sold goods or services to BSNL considering insolvency pleas, late payment of employees and a massive, government-approved revival package estimated at about $9.7bn for both BSNL and MTNL.

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