The government has allocated a sum of INR3.7 billion (US$475 million) to provide 4G services in Indian villages that are so far unconnected, according to media reports.
While the country is moving closer to the launch of 5G services later this year, some areas still lack basic connectivity.
The project is funded by the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) at an estimated cost of about INR6.5 billion ($833 million), including five years of operational expenses.
This is a pot collected by charging a 5% universal service charge from telecom service providers on their adjusted gross revenue. It is used to improve communications infrastructure in areas with no or poor connectivity.
The project was approved by the Union Cabinet in 2021, and is set to provide high-speed 4G services in unconnected villages in the Aspirational Districts of five states. The Aspirational District program was launched by the Indian government to fast-track development in the 112 most under-developed districts in the country.
A total of 7,287 villages are expected to benefit in 44 Aspirational Districts across Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Odisha.
Surprisingly, the project has been handed over to the top two private service providers, Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel. They will need to complete the deployment within 18 months – by November 2023.
Bharti Airtel will set up 1,083 mobile towers in the states of Jharkhand and Maharashtra for INR8.5 billion ($109.4 million). Meanwhile, Reliance Jio will receive INR2.8 billion ($36.5 million) to install 3,696 towers.
However, it is possible that the government decided to ignore state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) because the operator is still to launch 4G services.
BSNL's 4G launch is delayed because the government banned it from using foreign gear, and asked Indian companies to develop an indigenous 4G solution in line with its Atmanirbhar (self-reliance) policy.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a renewed focus on providing connectivity to rural and remote areas.
- Why 5G services are crucial for India's Jio
- Does BSNL's 4G stand a chance?
- Here's a glimpse into Airtel's 5G strategy
— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading