State-owned telco Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) has claimed it has outperformed private sector rivals such as Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular in net subscriber additions in 2017-18, and plans to build on the gains by spending Rs 4,300 crore for network expansion in this fiscal year.
“Net percentage subscriber additions of BSNL is the highest at 11.5% in 2017-18,” BSNL chairman Anupam Shrivastava told ET, adding that industry statistics revealed that competitors including Bharti Airtel grew at 9.5%, Vodafone 3.8%, Idea 3.2% during the same period.
The net user additions reflect over 11.3 million joining BSNL’s network from rivals in 2017-18, said Shrivastava. This, at a time, when the industry continues to be in the midst of an intense war for subscribers, triggered by Reliance Jio’s entry back in September 2016.
Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) data puts BSNL’s wireless subscriber base at 111.68 million in March 2018, up from 107.92 million in December 2017, and 101 million in March 2017. In the same time, market leader Bharti Airtel rose from 273.6 million to 308.7 million.
Billionaire Mukesh Ambani-owned Jio’s disruptive foray has hurt revenue and profitability of incumbents including Airtel, with smaller telcos such as Reliance Communications and Tata Teleservices being forced to exit the sector, and Aircel declaring bankruptcy.
BSNL too has been affected by competition, posting Rs 4,785 crore as provisional and unaudited net loss in 2017-18, compared with Rs 4,786 crore net loss in 2016-17. Revenue for the year ended March 31 fell to Rs 27,818 crore from Rs 31,533 crore a year earlier.
But the telco plans to invest Rs 4,300 crore in FY 2018-19 towards infrastructure expansion and network modernisation activities in a bid to take on its private sector rivals.
“New investment will be for putting up 4G hotspots, expansion of 3G services, replacement of outdated network, enhancement of broadband capacity, and making core network robust with further extension in far-flung areas,” Shrivastava said.
BSNL is also looking to add 12,000 mobile towers for 3G expansion.
Shrivastava also said that the government is seriously looking at a plan to allocate 4G spectrum on a commercial basis to the carrier.
The telco has proposed to pay 50% upfront through the equity route for acquiring a 5 Mhz block spectrum in the 2100 Mhz band, and the rest in 16 annual installments through the revenue it generates after the 4G service rollout.
“We are planning to launch 4G on 2100 Mhz band in all licensed service areas (LSAs) except Rajasthan where we have airwaves in the 800 MHz range,” Shrivastava explained.
The telco has already launched 4G technology-based data services in Kerala and Karnataka on a pilot basis, and according to the official, it can concurrently run 3G and 4G services on the 2100 Mhz frequency range in order to optimally utilise the band.
The telco has also formed a fully-owned subsidiary BSNL Tower Corp. Ltd. (BTCL), as a separate entity for mobile infrastructure deployment, and according to the top official, BTCL would start operations after the conclusion of the ongoing regulatory process.