IndiaWatch: Tender Times at BSNL

As Light Reading prepares to open the doors of its inaugural Indian conference, Broadband 2.0: Making the Business Case, in New Delhi (Wednesday) and then Mumbai (Friday), we wrap up the latest news from that action-packed market. (See LR in India .)

All eyes on BSNL
Government-owned national operator Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) is set to accept multiple bids from mobile equipment vendors as the submission deadline for its monster $9 billion, 93 million-line GSM/3G expansion tenders comes to a close on Wednesday.

BSNL, which is now assured 3G spectrum, issued four separate tender documents in May this year (see BSNL Floats New Mega GSM Tender), but had to extend the deadline for vendor bids to answer questions and address concerns from the bidders. (See BSNL Delays New GSM Tender, India Edges Closer to 3G, and BSNL Trials 3G.)

Now, according to reports from the Economic Times, the hopeful vendors, including Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), Nokia Networks , and ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763), all plan to submit their bids at the very last minute so that details can't leak out before the process closes.

BSNL, which has been linked with a potential IPO, is due to open the bid documents starting Wednesday, but the size and complexity of the deals mean the carrier won't be able to announce the winners immediately. (See India Update: IPO Plan, WiMax Auction.)

As that bid process comes to the boil, BSNL has issued a new tender, this time to support the delivery of VOIP services over 500,000 FTTH (fiber to the home) lines, for which it has been sourcing (or at least hoping to source) various passive components and systems. (See BSNL Wants GEPON, WiMax Gear and Sterlite Wins BSNL Deals.)

The carrier has set a deadline of October 14 to accept bids from VOIP equipment vendors and systems integrators that can supply and deploy softswitches, SIP application servers, session border controllers, and media gateways.

News of the VOIP gear document comes only days after Unstrung revealed that BSNL is about to launch a new Mobile WiMax equipment tender. (See BSNL Preps New WiMax Tender.)

Mobile hits 300 million landmark
BSNL wants to deploy tens of millions more mobile lines because demand in India is still growing. The latest statistics from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) show that 9.22 million new mobile subscriptions were activated during July this year, taking the total (GSM and CDMA) to 296.1 million.

So demand is still on the rise, as June's statistics showed a rise in wireless subscribers of 8.93 million. (See India's Going Mobile! 52M New Subs in H1.)

At that rate of demand, there should, by now, be more than 300 million mobile numbers assigned in India. By contrast, there are 38.76 million fixed lines active in India, and that number is slowly shrinking month by month.

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