BSNL Preps New WiMax Tender

India's state-owned operator Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) is set to issue a new tender for WiMax equipment, just as the country is about to auction broadband wireless spectrum, Unstrung has learned.

According to an industry source, BSNL will soon fire up what is already the hottest WiMax market around by inviting bids for WiMax equipment to cover urban areas in the circles of Punjab and Kerala.

According to those sources, the project is understood to be valued between $200 million and $500 million. (See A Guide to India's Telecom Operators.)

This will be the second tender issued as part of BSNL's plan to splash out $750 million on mobile WiMax to reach one sixth of India's 1 billion-plus population with wireless broadband services. (See BSNL Plans $750M WiMax Splash.)

BSNL is also close to selecting vendors for its first mobile WiMax tender, which was issued at the end of 2007. That tender, which involved supplying equipment to take broadband connectivity to rural areas, is expected to be wrapped up in the next few months, once proof-of-concept trials have been completed.

But it's not likely that BSNL's WiMax thirst will be quenched with these two projects. As the largest of the country's two state-owned operators, BSNL is guaranteed to get a broadband wireless license for 20 MHz of spectrum at 2.5 GHz in each of India's circles, except for Mumbai and Delhi, where fellow state-owned operator Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. (MTNL) will be awarded 2.5 GHz licenses. (See India Roundup: Tender Times, Stock Issues.)

BSNL is expected to pursue a franchise model for the WiMax networks it plans to build in about 16 of its circles. Our source says the operator is expected to issue an RFP (request for proposal) soon that will include mobile WiMax equipment as well as a commitment to run the broadband wireless networks and share the revenues with BSNL. The model will be similar to the deal BSNL has in place with SOMA Networks Inc. that covers three circles: Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa, and Andhra Pradesh. (See BSNL Picks SOMA for WiMax.)

The auction for the rest of the broadband wireless spectrum is expected as soon as next month, which is bound to fire up even more WiMax activity in the country. (See Indian Regulator Responds to DOT on 3G, India's Regulator, DOT Butt Heads on WiMax, India Update: IPO Plan, WiMax Auction, WiMAX Forum Applauds India, Tata Unleashes WiMax in India, Reliance Plots Global WiMax Rollout, and VSNL Pump$ Up WiMax Plan$.)

The Indian government will auction one license at 2.5 GHz in each circle, and two licenses at 2.3 GHz in each circle, with each license having 20 MHz of spectrum.

“WiMax was always best suited for providing low cost broadband services in emerging markets," says Patrick Donegan, senior analyst at Heavy Reading. "India is now emerging as the largest of those market opportunities.”

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

Interested in learning more on this topic? Then come to Broadband 2.0: Making the Business Case, a 2-day roadshow that will provide attendees from among India's fixed and wireless carrier communities with an exclusive and intensive overview of how broadband wireline and wireless services can be enhanced to improve ARPU, ROI, and churn. The event will be staged in New Delhi on September 10 and Mumbai on September 12.

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