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Does BSNL's 4G stand a chance?

The much-anticipated launch of state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) 4G services is finally likely to happen by the end of 2022, according to media reports.

While private telcos have launched and acquired hundreds of 4G subscribers, BSNL struggles to offer 4G services.

Possible advantage: BSNL has a significant presence in rural and Tier-3 cities, towns and villages.
 (Source: SOPA Images Limited/Alamy Stock Photo)
Possible advantage: BSNL has a significant presence in rural and Tier-3 cities, towns and villages.
(Source: SOPA Images Limited/Alamy Stock Photo)

This is mainly because of government insistence on using homegrown technology to launch 4G. This delay has led to the service provider losing market share. So the question is whether the 4G launch will help the company revive its fortunes and stem its downward spiral.

Pros and cons

Private operators provide good 4G coverage in metros and Tier-2 cities. However, BSNL has a significant presence in rural and Tier-3 cities, towns and villages. This could be an advantage.

There are around 728 million 4G subscribers in India if one combines the 4G subscribers of Bharti Airtel (200 million), Reliance Jio (410 million) and Vodafone Idea (118 million).

Considering the country's population sits at 1.38 billion, there is significant room for growth. What possibly goes against BSNL is that most high-value customers are already using 4G in metro and urban areas. Therefore, it is fair to say that BSNL has missed this bus.

Another factor that may impact BSNL's 4G services is that private service providers will be launching commercial 5G around the same time. Meanwhile, it's been reported that BSNL itself plans to launch 5G in 2023, soon after 4G.

Location, location, location

However, logically, the initial launch of 5G is going to be in metros and Tier-1 cities, where people are already using 4G – and therefore not the target market for BSNL's 4G services.

This means 5G may not directly impact BSNL's 4G services much. At the same time, BSNL's ARPU for 4G might end up lower than its peers because of the lower capacity of people in smaller towns.


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BSNL will be launching 4G at a time when there is a growing interest in private wireless networks, and this segment is only now opening up in India.

The service provider stands to gain by trying to capture this segment. The private telcos themselves are only now beginning to target LTE private networks.

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— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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