An open letter to the Telecom Minister of India

Note: To understand some of this you will need some info. The lesser the frequency the better is indoor coverage and total covered area. That is 900 MHz waves cover more area than 1800 MHz waves.

Only 3 operators per circle on average have 900 MHz spectrum for GSM. One of them is always BSNL. All others use 1800 MHz. eg. In Maharashtra, BSNL, Idea and Vodafone use 900 MHz. Airtel, Tata Docomo, Uninor, Aircel, all use 1800 Mhz. Hence they have poorer coverage.

3G uses 2100 MHz. Hence coverage, at least in India is not so good. (update 5/1/12 : idea and Vodafone seem to have decent coverage for 3G )

CDMA is a more efficient technology that GSM, but operators have to pay 7%(figure accurate for reliance CDMA. Not sure about others) profits to Qualcomm, hence operators prefer GSM. However, since CDMA requires lesser spectrum, all operators have managed to fit in the 800Mhz band. Hence coverage of Reliance CDMA and Tata Docomo CDMA and even mts is better than its GSM counterparts.

3G is better than CDMA. At least in capacity and speeds. When implemented on 900 MHz, 3G is better than CDMA EVDO and has even better speeds.

Dear Mr. Telecom Minister,

I have just read the news that BSNL now seeks a Rs. 4000 Cr. Subsidy (All of which is taxpayer money) to cover operational costs. I also read your response to it, saying that you were going to use the ‘Carrot and Stick’ model to turn the ailing public sector company around. It might probably work, but what we really need is some deep thinking on the very purpose of such public sector enterprises and whether such proportions of funds should be utilized on them.

As I was taught in Std X economics, the function of public sector enterprises is not solely to make profit (though that is desirable), but to provide facilities which would otherwise be difficult for the private sector to provide at a reasonable cost (if at all).

Looking at what functions BSNL serves today, it is quite apparent that it doesn’t serve many purposes that the private sector can’t provide at a reasonable cost. The functions that I am aware that it serves, that the private sector can’t provide are :

  1. Rural Broadband Connectivity
  2. Pan India (Including remote areas) mobile connectivity (2G + 3G) – Only operator able to do this because of exclusive access to 900 MHz GSM spectrum Pan India.
  3. Introducing new expensive technology based connectivity, which is not yet market tested (at least in India). Eg. Fiber to the Home.
  4. Introduce existing technologies at lower price band, thus pushing private players to do the same. Eg. Dataone broadband.

However, the organization has lost focus .Being a government enterprise, it has unrestricted access to all types of wireless spectrum. And hence there is haphazard planning. You are hence wasting our money. It is our money Mr. Sibal. Please take care of it.

Some suggestions that I wish you would take into account:

  1. Implement a policy where Private operator customers like those of Airtel and Idea are able to latch on to the BSNL network where their respective connectivity is not available, especially in places like forest reserves, remote areas etc. BSNL network is unreliable in cities due to poor capacity planning and hence impractical to use as primary connection. But cell phone is also a sort of security measure which should be available to everyone even in the most remote areas. We shouldn’t have to carry a second BSNL phone just for that. Rural cell connectivity shouldn’t just be a luxury which is available only to those who don’t need a reliable network.
  2. Focus on technologies in which to invest. You can shut down the BSNL EVDO and CDMA service. It is useless. Instead pioneer 3G on 900 MHz waves and provide superior rural as well as urban connectivity. 3G is a very efficient technology and can handle a lot of users per base station. If implemented on 900 MHz, a single base station can cover a very large area and thus population. Thus you won’t need to expand copper network for rural broadband as well.
  3. Stop outsourcing network setup to 3rd parties. Once setup is done, no maintenance and upgrading of network is done and hence network quality suffers. Setup an in-house technical team which handles technical maintenance. For eg. The system to upgrade traditional SIM card to 3G USIM is broken in the Maharashtra Circle since 7 months. It has still not been fixed. That’s maintenance.
  4. Setup a team which checks reliability of network. In my city, there is no power backup to many GSM and 3G base stations. Every time there is a power failure, Cell connectivity is lost. SMS are not delivered on time. Calls don’t always go through. And when they do, the voice quality is not assured. 3G is not consistent. It gets disconnected.
  5. Also, stop hogging spectrum if you can’t utilize it. You control about 10 MHz of 900 MHz band GSM spectrum in Mah&Goa, but your needs are much less. Lease it to other private operators (You’ll need to make some policy changes for the same).

The BSNL customer care has improved a lot, but your incompetent policy making is really messing up the company. I know Mr. Sam Pitroda is the head of a committee which is trying to turn around the struggling PSUs (Including MTNL and BSNL), but political and policy hurdles are not allowing them to do so. There’s a lot of money and resources at stake here and it would be prudent for you to do something about it.

With the kind of resources and assets this PSU has, it can be the Cash cow of the government if handled correctly.

Yours Sincerely,

An Indian.


One thought on “An open letter to the Telecom Minister of India

  1. I lives in 60/19A/1, Beli Road, New Katra, urban area of Allahabad, U.P. East region. There is no proper network of BSNL. My request No. is 311UP1722711, regarding this matter. But there is not a single response. I am not criticised but just mean to say that these small things are maked reputation poorer of any company.
    If you could take some kind of action regarding that type of matters, please do.
    Deepak Kumar

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