Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), regardless of its falling reputation, is loved by many in India. One thing that’s become evident from the statements of the government is that the telco won’t be privatised and its 4G networks will be leveraged to make it profitable again. There are many who question BSNL’s attempt to roll out 4G networks when it is on the verge of becoming a legacy network and believe that the telco should invest in 5G instead to gain the upper hand over the other operators. But it isn’t as simple; let me explain.
BSNL Can’t Invest on 5G Directly
One thing that you need to understand about 5G is that there will be two types of 5G networks available in India - 5G standalone (SA) and 5G non-standalone (NSA) networks. In simple words, 5G NSA, as the name suggests, will operate with a 5G radio being dependent on a 4G core and 4G network while 5G SA will operate independently where the 5G radio will be directly connected to the 5G core.
Now, why is this important to understand? Hear me out.
BSNL has two options here, either jump to 5G directly or go with 4G. The telco can’t go with 5G because - a) it doesn’t have an existing 4G network to roll out 5G NSA network; b) 5G SA is way more costly than deploying 5G NSA, and c) BSNL doesn’t have the money to invest 5G SA on top of which the lack of experience of Indian vendors and proven technology in the area is a problem.
Understand that even if the government gives BSNL a lot of money to roll out 5G SA networks, it might not be any different in speeds than 5G NSA because of the frequency or the airwaves the networks might be operating in. So it won’t even make sense for the cash-strapped telco to waste its money on a network that might be as good as 5G NSA.
What Can BSNL Really Do?
BSNL can keep its focus on 4G. This is because a successful 4G rollout will ensure that BSNL can upgrade its networks to 5G NSA. Note that it’s entirely possible for the telco to migrate from 5G NSA to 5G SA in the future if it has the required resources.
BSNL added subscribers in the months of January and March 2021 on the back of 3G networks. Just imagine how the telco’s fortunes might change once 4G networks are live. The only thing that BSNL can really do here is try to retain its existing customers by rolling out excellent promotional offers and, in the backend, keep working on rolling out its 4G networks.
The state-run telco is doing what it can to survive. But it just isn’t enough for the long-term. BSNL needs 4G as soon as possible so that it can think about 5G in the first place. If BSNL is unsuccessful in rolling out 4G networks by the next 14 months and there are further delays in its plans, the telco’s future looks very grim.