Sharing of network may be allowed for rural broadband

Sharing of network may be allowed for rural broadband

New Delhi: To keep costs down, the department of telecommunications (DoT) is looking to use a mobile virtual network operator model to implement a rural wireless broadband scheme across the country.

“One wireless broadband network may be created by BSNL (Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd),which could be used by other TSPs (telecom service providers) through the MVNO model, resulting in cost saving," said a departmental presentation, a copy of which has been reviewed by Mint.

In an MVNO model, multiple operators can share a common wireless network.

So far, the department has been looking to introduce MVNOs to ease pressure on wireless operators due to a scarcity of air waves. The shortage leads to significantly increased costs to install booster equipment.

“If the network is shared by multiple operators, then the stress on available resources will come down," a DoT official said, requesting anonymity. “It would also increase healthy competition and keep tariffs affordable."

Despite more than five years of discussions, and in that time finalizing at least two draft MVNO policies, the government is yet to come out with the necessary regulations.

The rural wireless broadband scheme under the Universal Services Obligation Fund (USOF) aims to subsidize the roll-out of networks to connect more than half a million inhabited villages in faraway regions with wireless broadband of a minimum speed of 512kbps that would be upgradable to 2MBps.

The network will leverage existing networks like that of Railtel and BSNL. In all, there will be 19 bidding areas for which the USOF will provide a subsidy over eight years in a phased manner.

The winning bidders will have to complete the network within two years.

In April, the USOF uploaded a draft of the scheme on its website for comments and suggestions. An internal committee of the DoT is going through various issues raised by stakeholders and looking into plausible solutions.

The main issue that most have objected to is that the draft does not clearly state whether the subsidy will also be given to operators who have 3G and BWA spectrum in a specific area. They have argued that giving the subsidy to operators with 3G spectrum will take away a level playing field as it will tantamount to helping the operator complete the roll-out obligations of the 3G spectrum.

At present, 3G operators have to roll out services in 50% of the district headquarters (DHQs), including 15% rural DHQs, within five years.

Another major issue stakeholders have raised is that BSNL has reserved one of the two slots available.

“They (the operators) are saying that if none are reserved then there will be more competition," the DoT official said.

The stakeholders that have raised the issues include various Internet service providers, telecom service providers as well as the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.