Only Indian tech will power BSNL’s 4G, 5G upgrade

The government has decided to restrict foreign telecom vendors from the mega 4G and 5G modernisation projects at BSNL and MTNL – which have been handed out a Rs 1.64 lakh crore revival package – and instructions have been given to award contracts primarily to Indian companies.

The ambitious localisation move – being initiated for the first time ever – is being undertaken with an eye to develop core technologies and equipment within the country without much dependence on international players.

The government also wants that intellectual property rights related to the new technologies should stay within India, especially at a time when concerns around cyber security and data espionage are growing across the world.

The localisation move has also been pushed at the highest levels within the government, with Union communications minister Ashwini Vaishnaw asking the top management at BSNL and MTNL to follow the diktat, or risk facing action. “It’s clear that BSNL will only and only use technology that is Made in India. That’s absolutely clear. Just forget all the loyalties you had in the past, and move ahead. If you want to maintain the past loyalties, go back with them (foreign vendors). I am being very blunt,” Vaishnaw told top officials of BSNL and MTNL.

The minister emphasised that “only and only the technology which is ‘Made in India’ has to be used” in all network upgrades to 4G and 5G. “We are infusing so much money (through the revival package) because BSNL is a strategic company in a strategic sector. In a strategic PSU, we will use only trusted inputs and technologies which are ‘Made in India’ under the Atmanirbhar Bharat programme. You should forget the rest, and take it out of your mind that there is any other technology or any other company. ”

BSNL and MTNL have previously deployed equipment provided by Chinese and European suppliers, though now local companies such as Shyam VNL, HFCL, and TCS-Tejas combine are providing new products and indigenously-developed equipment.

Vaishnaw also said that while the Indian technologies may not be superior in the beginning, they are expected to get better with time. “May be there are some teething problems which need improvement. How many of you here are engineers? I guess the majority. Is there anything perfect in the beginning? There are improvements, versions, new features etc… that’s the way of life, that’s the way we studied, that’s the way we trained, that’s the way we have practiced in the field. ”

Local companies are confident of the government’s indigenisation push. “We have field-proven, secure and sustainable 4G/LTE communication solutions… With the introduction of 5G, we are hopeful that our innovations will also help in bridging standardisation gaps,” Rajiv Mehrotra, chairman of VNL, said.

Mahendra Nahata, MD of HFCL, also sees BSNL’s 5G push as an enabler for local technologies and homegrown companies. “We are excited about the 5G rollout becoming a reality soon and the vast opportunity that will unfold for Indian enterprises and consumers… 5G will allow enterprises to embark on the Industry 4.0 journey, and it will help accelerate digital transformation across industries,” Nahata said, adding that he sees tremendous opportunities for the company’s telecom equipment and optical fibre cables businesses.

The consortium of TCS-Tejas as well as the government’s C-DoT will most likely take up a major portion of BSNL’s 4G, and 5G, deployment. “C-DoT’s core will be used for the network, while Tejas will make the equipment and TCS will carry out system integration,” an official said.

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