India to use USOF to provide 4G coverage in 7k+ villages

The Indian government has approved the use of the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) to provide 4G connectivity in 7,287 villages at the cost of around INR64.66 billion ($872 million).

The villages are spread across five states of Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Odisha and Chhattisgarh. The cost of $872 million includes the operational expense of managing the network for the next five years.

The initiative will be completed over 18 months from the signing of the agreement, likely to take place on November 23, says the press release issued by the government.

Even with more than 750 million connected people, nearly 50% of the country’s population is yet to get online. There is an urgency to bridge the digital divide as the digital ecosystem continues to become all-pervasive.

Mind the gap

While India boasts of high urban teledensity of 141.52%, the rural teledensity is just 60%, according to the latest data issued by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). The initiative has been launched to address this problem, in line with the government’s push to connect the unconnected as part of its Digital India program.

"The work related to the provision of 4G mobile services in identified uncovered villages will be awarded through the open competitive bidding process as per extant USOF procedures," says the press release.

Typically, the state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited's (BSNL's) network is used for government initiatives to provide connectivity in remote areas. This is also because BSNL has better coverage in remote and rural areas. So it is interesting that the administration has decided to go for competitive bidding for this initiative.

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The project "will enhance digital connectivity useful for self-reliance, facilitate learning, dissemination of information and knowledge, skill upgradation and development, disaster management, e-Governance initiatives, the establishment of enterprises and e-commerce facilities," adds the press release.

It will also improve job opportunities in remote and rural areas and promote domestic manufacturing and fulfill the objectives of Atmanirbhar Bharat - self reliant India.

India's USOF also funds the BharatNet initiative, which covers nearly 325,000 villages through Gram Panchayats (village administrations). It is also being used to provide connectivity in the villages of seven states in the north-eastern region.

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— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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