The government of India has given back the 4G spectrum surrendered by BSNL about seven years ago to enable the state-owned telecom operator to start 4G services.
The telecom operator had surrendered 4G spectrum in six expensive circles such as Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh about seven years ago, in return for part reimbursement of the Rs 8,300 cr that it has paid for the same eight years ago.
BSNL was allocated spectrum in the 2500 MHz band in all its circles after the end of India’s first 4G auction in 2010.
The expectation was that the company would launch 4G services at the same time as private operators like Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio, which had also won extensive amounts of 4G spectrum in the 2010 auction.
However, strapped for cash and lacking clear leadership, BSNL was unable to firm up an effective strategy to launch wireless broadband services.
Soon after, mounting losses started affecting the company’s ability to service its existing wired broadband and voice network, forcing the company to return the spectrum and seek a refund.
The refund proposal was approved about two years after it was first mooted by the operator and after keeping the company’s dire situation in mind.
However, the explosive expansion of 4G services in India with the launch of Reliance Jio’s services in 2016 has made BSNL’s legacy DSL broadband services less competitive due to the high cost of maintaining copper lines.
As a result, the company recently decided to relook at 4G wireless technology drive its broadband strategy and sought spectrum from the government again.
In September last year, it announced that the government agreed to a proposal to give it some 4G spectrum to implement its new strategy. The telecom company was given the option of paying for the same over a period of 16 years.
At the time, it was assumed that the government would give it only a 5 MHz block in the 2100 MHz band, also known as the 3G band, to launch 4G.
However, in a statement today, telecom minister Manoj Sinha revealed that the company has in its possession 4G spectrum in both 2100 MHz and 2500 MHz band in all its service areas, indicating that the spectrum that was surrendered has been reallocated to the operator.
The 2100 MHz spectrum is good for achieving coverage, but would be practically useless in supporting the high data rates that consumers have come to expect from their 4G serivces. The 2500 MHz spectrum, on the other hand, can support speeds of up to 60 Mbps as it is based on a different technology within 4G.
“Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) was allotted 2x5MHz (paired) spectrum in the 2100 MHz and 20 MHz unpaired spectrum in 2500 MHz frequency band in 20 Licensed Service Areas (LSAs) to deploy any technology including 4G services,” Sinha said today.
He clarified that BSNL had “applied for allotment of spectrum of 2×5 MHz in 2100 MHz band in 19 service areas and for 2×5 MHz in the 800 MHz band in Rajasthan for deployment of 4G services.”
Besides the above slots, Sinha said BSNL can also ‘liberalize’ its spectrum in the 800 MHz, 900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands and then use it for deploying 4G services.
LAUNCHED IN KERALA
Meanwhile, the company has rolled out 4G services in dozens of towns in Kerala.
The company also offers 1.5 GB of data and unlimited calls for Rs 485 with a validity of 90 days. The same plan costs Rs 186 for 26 days.
It offers data-only recharges, such as 1.5 GB/day for 20 days for Rs 98 — one of the most affordable daily data plans in India.
Similarly, using the Rs 155 recharge plan, Kerala BSNL users can get 2 GB of data per day for 17 days.
Meanwhile, the Rs 189 recharge pack gives 2.2 GB of data per day for 26 days in Kerala. For heavy users, the company also offers the Rs 339 plan, which gives 3GB of data per day for 26 days, along with free 30 minutes of voice calls per day.