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BSNL will not survive for more than 2 years without affordable 4G equipment, employees tell govt

Yasmin Ahmed     December 8, 2020

Government-owned telco Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) in the past year has tried getting many improvements where broadband and prepaid benefits are concerned. However, the telco lags in the 4G sector with all the. other telcos having rolled out the services for over 5 years. BSNL employees group called the All Unions and Associations of BSNL (AUAB) has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and to Minister of Communications Ravi Shankar Prasad expressing the need for the telco to roll out 4G in the country. The AUAB in the letter wrote that in the absence of 4G, BSNL cannot survive in the industry beyond two years.

The BSNL employees union has further asked the government to let them procure equipment if it is not indigenous. It has asked the government not to discriminate against BSNL based on the "Make in India" policy.

ET Telecom, which saw the letter, quoted the employees saying that out of the upgradable 49,300 BTSs, 13,300 BTSs are supplied by Nokia and 36,000 BTSs are supplied by ZTE and are 4G, 3G, and 2G compatible. AUAB said that the government should allow BSNL to get its 2G and 3G BTSs upgraded to 4G BTSs to launch 4G services.

The equipment of phase 8.4 expansion is supplied by Nokia as L1. 4G BTSs can be procured through that tender, by way of placing an add-on purchasing order, it noted, and added that that ailing telco should be allowed to procure 4G BTSs from the phase 8.4 tender.

Nokia is Finnish while ZTE is of the Chinese origin. Earlier this year, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recommended a need for indigenous manufacturing of telecom equipment, cutting dependence on imports to net zero by 2022, and which according to it, would also create self-reliance and new job opportunities within India. International vendors in the past have expressed that TRAI's new proposal was unrealistic and would make their business unviable given India's telecom landscape.

"BSNL is facing attacks from all sides. If we don't remain united it will be very difficult to save BSNL. In the past also, only the employees have protected BSNL through their struggles and not the Management. The AUAB has already sent a letter to all the Unions and Associations, which are not part of the AUAB, requesting them to join the AUAB, for organising united actions. If they make a positive move, we will welcome them," K Sebastin, General Secretary, SNEA told ETT.

The employee's group has further reiterated its demand for adequate compensation for the losses caused by an inordinate delay in the launch of 4G services.

BSNL outsourced its customer care services in some circles to cut costs, earlier this year, which according to the employees has resulted in the degradation of services. The employee's union noted that any attempts by the management or government to divert BSNL's mobile towers to the subsidiary BSNL Tower Corporation (BTCL), or converting it into a joint venture, or opting for disinvestment would invite militant struggles.

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