The two companies have bridged differences over pricing and other commercial terms, they said, paving the way for the Tata group–led consortium to emerge as India’s first indigenous telecom network solutions provider in a market dominated by global majors.
“There was a lot of procedural delay on pricing, but it is now expected to be finalised within a few days,” said one person cited above, adding that the Centre is keen to see a closure “as it has been pending for some time.” The public-private combine is expected to roll out BSNL’s 4G services across 100,000 towers or sites, the person added.
Tejas Networks, a unit of Tata Sons, which is the parent company of TCS, is expected to locally manufacture the network equipment for BSNL.
Rollout in 2023
The state-run telco serves some 111 million wireless subscribers.
The Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT), a government-owned telecommunications technology developer, has partnered with TCS to develop a core 4G solution as well as radio equipment.
“Effectively the TCS consortium, including C-DoT and Tejas, will be ready for 4G product rollout by early next year,” said the person cited above.
BSNL, TCS and Tejas did not confirm the deal value until press time.
A successful rollout of BSNL’s 4G network could propel India into a coveted club of countries — such as the US, Sweden, Finland, South Korea and China — that have developed telecom network technology. The market is dominated by the likes of Sweden’s Ericsson, Finland’s Nokia and China’s Huawei, while Korea’s Samsung is also emerging as a key player.
Analysts reckon that a local 5G network solution also being developed by the Indian combine can place it in contention for a share of the $500-billion international telecom equipment market.
Once the 5G solution is tested, it will also allow TCS and Tejas Networks to take their offerings to private telcos in the country as well as to global operators, said DD Mishra, senior director analyst, Gartner.
In recent years, the government has been pushing for self-reliance in the telecommunications sector due to national security concerns. The political and military face-off with China has also led to Chinese firms such as Huawei and ZTE being barred from participating in India’s 5G rollout, while stiff conditions have been imposed on others.
Loss-making BSNL has been planning to launch 4G services since 2019 but in 2020, it was forced to cancel a tender due to restrictive conditions for domestic firms. Subsequently, it was directed to only utilise equipment from domestic companies.
The government has pegged the launch of 4G services as key to the struggling telco’s efforts to compete better with private sector rivals such as Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel and revive operations.
The latest deal comes in the wake of the Rs 1.64-lakh bailout package for the carrier, which includes grant of spectrum, 4G launch and funding of operations and capital expenses, among other elements.
BSNL has worked with TCS, Tejas and C-DoT to test homegrown 4G technology as part of a Rs 200-crore proof of concept. The 5G stack is still undergoing testing, which is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
In July, TCS chief operating officer N Ganapathy Subramaniam told ET that the company was gearing up to deploy 4G solutions after a successful pilot, and that the 5G engagement was progressing. “We are geared to start equipment supply and deployment thereof much before the end of this year,” he had said.
Meanwhile, BSNL is in the process of setting up 6,000 4G sites using the 4G stack of C-DoT-TCS under a Rs 550-crore deal awarded earlier.