The government-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) has demanded a level playing field from the government vis-à-vis private operators regarding use of Chinese equipment in its mobile network.
The company has communicated to the department of telecommunications (DoT) that if it is not allowed to procure Chinese equipment for its GSM mobile services, then the private telecom service providers should also not be allowed to use Chinese equipment, said an official who chose to remain anonymous as he is not authorised to speak to the media.
CMD of BSNL Kuldeep Goyal refused to comment on the issue.
Following a report from intelligence agencies, BSNL has been asked not to procure Chinese equipment. Huawei, a Chinese equipment provider, is the only qualified bidder in two out of five zones in a BSNL tender of 92 million GSM lines. It is technically qualified for West, East and South zones. However, the home ministry report has prevented BSNL from awarding orders to it.
BSNL has pointed out that all the state governments and public sector undertakings (PSUs) are allowed to subscribe to telecom services of private telecom players. Most of them are using services of private players. Therefore, whatever is “sensitive” for BSNL should also be “sensitive” for private players.
BSNL provides services throughout the country except Delhi and Mumbai, where MTNL is the government-owned service provider. As on July 30, BSNL had a total mobile subscriber base of 5.07 crore (50.7 million).
“BSNL accounts for only 15.5 per cent of total subscriber base,” the official said. “It is difficult to understand how use of Chinese equipment is a national security threat if BSNL uses it and is not a security risk if private companies use it.”
In an August 28 meeting between telecom service providers and DoT secretary Siddharth Behura, all private players opposed the ban on Chinese equipment. Intelligence agencies have sought ban on the use of Chinese equipment in 20 states including UP, Bihar, Punjab, Jharkhand. It was decided that the government would formulate, within a month, guidelines on the use of Chinese equipment. Huawei and ZTE are two important equipment manufacturer and most of the operators use their equipment.