Over the past few months, a multitude of meetings have taken place between the leaders of the public telecommunications operator BSNL and a consortium led by the Tata group. Officials from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) were also present, relaying the events to Indian Telecommunications Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw.
The minutes of these meetings, which The Ken has acceded, reveal a plan that is both bold and innovative. The Indian government, in accordance with its atmanirbhar (self-sufficient) mantra, attempts to orchestrate the creation of the first telecommunications network built entirely by Indian companies. If all goes according to plan, the Tata-led consortium will secure a purchase order worth between $1.5 billion and $2 billion to build BSNL’s long-awaited 4G network. The consortium includes the country’s largest systems integrator, Tata Consultancy Services, and national telecommunications manufacturer Tejas Networks, also partly owned by Tata.
It’s a gargantuan task, and even the Tata group, which enjoys a global presence in sectors as varied as automotive, IT and steel, will find it difficult to accomplish. A year ago, neither TCS nor Tejas had the full stack of 4G network technology – the hardware components such as the radios mounted on telecommunications towers and the basic software that serves as the brains of the network – required by BSNL.
So far, TCS has only provided development and testing services to global telecom providers. Tejas, on the other hand, which recorded revenues of Rs 515 billion (~$69 million) in the fiscal year ending March 2021, primarily builds equipment that connects radios deployed in cell towers to the network core. It earns its bread and butter from wired products such as optical networks. However, Tejas does not build radios. Both companies are currently working feverishly to present a proof of concept (PoC), but progress has not been as fast as BSNL or the government had hoped.
“Previously, a more aggressive schedule was being pursued – completion of proof of concept by Jan. 26 and completion of 4G deployment in a few circles by Aug. 15,” an official close to the DoT and BSNL said. .
The Ken learned that a revised Jan. 31 deadline to present the PoC was also missed, with TCS officials requesting an extension at a Jan. 28 meeting, sources said. The Ken. Sources also say the consortium was reluctant to share its test results with BSNL and DoT, and failed to meet all of the former’s requirements. Questions sent to BSNL, DoT and Tata Group went unanswered.
BSNL is unhappy with the delays. She understands that she is running against time and must quickly set up a 4G network to keep her 113 million subscribers (from September 2021) to move on to private rivals Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel.