BSNL to “shortly” launch 4G with VoLTE, Reliance Jio to face competition

Players like Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular and Vodafone are heaving a sigh of relief that Reliance Jio has not unveiled any ‘monsoon surprise’ offer. However, state-owned BSNL may be about to increase the competition in the market with the launch of its 4G services shortly.

Anupam Shrivastava, the chairman and managing director of the state-owned telecom company, said the operator is close to launching 4G services.

“BSNL is launching 4G mobile services shortly,” he said today, adding that “during the financial year 17-18 BSNL will introduce VoLTE.”

VoLTE refers to voice over LTE — a technology by which voice is carried over a wireless 4G network, offering higher clarity and lower operating costs for the service provider.

In January this year, Shrivastava had promised that it will launch 4G services in 2017-18 — or about seven years after it was allocated spectrum for the purpose.

Today, Shrivastava indicated that its 4G tariffs will be competitive with those offered by anyone else in the market.

“We’re already matching tariff by tariff, plan by plan,” he said.

The state-owned company is currently the cheapest provider of wireless data services in India.

In April this year, it introduced a new plan called Triple Ace, priced at Rs 333, and offering 3GB of 3G data per day for 90 days, making it by far the cheapest high-speed wireless data offer.

At present, players like Idea Cellular and Reliance Jio offer 1 GB of data per day and unlimited calls for 84 days at Rs 400.

However, BSNL faces extreme congestion on its 3G network almost across the country due to spectrum paucity.

While players like Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio use about 50-60 MHz of spectrum for their high-speed wireless services, BSNL uses only 10 MHz, which severely restricts the amount of data the network can carry.

However, BSNL’s 4G service will be rolled out on 20 MHz of spectrum, though it will use Band 41 of LTE, which is not supported on most handsets and devices in India. As a result, consumers will be forced to buy new handsets or dongles to use the service.

Shrivastava has not been more specific about when exactly the launch will take place, but sources indicate that the company is targeting a year-end introduction of 4G services.

These services, however, will not be available across the country, going by the current spectrum footprint of the operator.

The company does not have 4G spectrum in key states such as Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kolkata. However, it is hopeful of getting its hands on more airwaves after the spectrum auction of this year — expected to take place around October — is over.