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BSNL close to inking tower-sharing pact with Aircel

New Delhi: State-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) is all set to ink its first intra-circle roaming (ICR) agreement with mobile services company Aircel, a move that will shore up its revenues.

Anupam Srivastava, chairman and managing director (CMD) of BSNL, said the two telecom companies (telcos) were “very close to signing an agreement”.

“We are very close to signing an agreement with Aircel. Exchange of all documents have taken place and they (documents) have been whetted by both company’s legal department. Maybe, we will soon be signing our first (ICR) agreement with Aircel,” he said.

The public sector undertaking (PSU) is also looking to enter into a tower sharing partnership with billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s telecom venture Reliance Jio. However, it is stuck due to interoperability issue arising from difference in their network technology.

“There is no agreement signed as such (with Reliance Jio). We are testing out networks. They can use our 2G (second generation) and 3G (third generation) networks. That test has almost been done. We are doing a test on whether our customers can utilise Reliance’s network. There are some interoperability issues that we are trying to sort out,” said the BSNL chief.

Srivastava said the technologies of the two telcos were not compatible; “For a call or data to go from one side to the other, there has to be perfect compatibility between technology used by the two partners. That is being tested right now. We will get it sorted out soon,” he said

BSNL uses multifarious technology of various telecom equipment vendors like Ericson, Nokia, Alcatel, ZTE, Huawei and others while Jio’s network is mostly on Samsung.

The BSNL-Jio tie-up had been opposed by the GSM players’ lobby body Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) on the grounds that other operators were not given an equal opportunity to participate in it.

It had reportedly asked BSNL to be “fair, open and transparent” in the whole exercise.

“It is requested that this entire exercise should be conducted in a fair, open and transparent manner and details of the same should be shared with our member operators to ensure that BSNL benefits from a competitive commercial offering, at the same time allowing a public resource equally to all other operators,” COAI had written in its letter to the government some time back.

BSNL has over 69-70,000 towers across the country, which it wants to share with other operators to earn revenues. Previous governments had not been receptive to this idea. After reporting an operational loss of Rs 690 crore in FY14, the telco showed Rs 670 crore operational profit last fiscal.

Srivastava said the government-owned telco was “open to ICR with all operators”.

“We are open to ICRs with all operators. This is one thing we need to observe being a government entity. We cannot work across the table, negotiate and pick somebody. We have a rate for ICR and if any operator is interested it can come to us and operate on that particular rate,” he said.

The central PSU’s rate is 25 paise per call per minute, 3 paise for SMS and 25 paise per megabyte (MB) for data. “We have offered a common rate across the companies and whoever is interested can come to us,” he said.
According to him, many operators had initially responded to their rates but backed out later. Only Aircel has moved ahead with it.

Once the deal with Aircel goes through, BSNL will decide in which circle it will share its towers.
“We will ensure that our network is not congested. Where our network is utilised to 100%, it will not be possible. Agreement is one part, while its utilisation is another part,” he said.