India’s government has approved a third ‘revival package’ worth INR890.47 billion (USD10.79 billion) for state-owned telecoms operator Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), largely representing funds for allocating multi-band mobile spectrum in the 700MHz, 2500MHz, 3300MHz and 26GHz ranges to enable the struggling telco to roll out full-fledged commercial 4G, and subsequently 5G, services.

As reported by the Indian Express, BSNL has been allotted: 10MHz in the 700MHz band for 22 licensed service areas (LSAs) worth INR463.386 billion; 70MHz in the 3300MHz band for 22 LSAs worth INR261.842 billion; 800MHz in 21 LSAs/650MHz in one LSA in the 26GHz band worth INR65.649 billion; and 20MHz in six LSAs/10MHz in two LSAs in the 2500MHz band worth INR94.282 billion.

Notably, the Union Cabinet’s decision to allot BSNL spectrum in the 700MHz band makes it the only other telco besides Reliance Jio to hold frequencies in the coveted range. BSNL – struggling to compete against rivals Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea – has yet to expand its fledgling 4G LTE mobile broadband operations into a full-scale commercial service.

Minister of Communications Ashwini Vaishnaw said that the allotment of spectrum to BSNL has been done at ‘auction discovered’ prices, adding that the deployment of BSNL’s 4G services has started in some areas, with commercial expansion throughout the country expected after testing the technology on its live network for ‘at least three months’. The minister underlined that BSNL’s 4G/5G technology platform will run on the ‘India Telecom Stack’ co-developed indigenously by the government’s Centre For Development Of Telematics (C-Dot) and software developer Tata Consultancy Services, while the initial 5G network will be based on Non-Standalone (NSA) architecture. With merger plans for BSNL and sister firm Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) progressing, the launches of 4G and 5G services in Delhi and Mumbai – which fell under the domain of MTNL – will be carried out by BSNL, Vaishnaw clarified.

In 2019 the government approved the first revival package for BSNL with an outlay of INR690 billion, followed by a second package worth INR1.64 trillion in 2022. Vaishnaw noted that following the second revival package, BSNL has reduced its debt burden by INR105 billion, and said that the telco will become debt-free in the next three years. The minister also highlighted that BSNL posted operating profit (EBIT) of around INR15 billion in the financial year ended March 2023, although as reported by CommsUpdate net loss widened to INR81.2 billion in FY22/23 from INR69.9 billion the previous year, despite an increase in turnover.

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