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BSNL Must Catch Up With Private Operators

The government-owned telecom operator, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) has announced a plan to set up 100 mobile towers by March 2019 to provide better connectivity to its customers in the state. Of the 100 towers, 35 would be set up in the rural areas and 65 in the urban areas. The BSNL has assured that the safety concerns of the people will be kept in mind in setting up the mobile towers. The BSNL would seek permission from the gram panchayats and local authorities to set up towers in conformity with environmental laws. By adding towers, the BSNL hopes to provide better connectivity and also in the process attract more customers and improve its revenue collection. The BSNL is hoping to tap the untapped market in the remote areas where private operators have not reached. The BSNL feels that new towers would help it to provide better internet speed and address the problem of ‘range’ faced by its customers.

The government is promoting startups, so a good internet and telephony (both landline and mobile) could be of great help to those setting up a venture. There is big market for good internet and phone services. The BSNL can really tap the growing market but it has to break out of its shackles. While the private operators started offering 4G services more than a couple of years ago, the BSNL is yet to start providing them. Though the BSNL had promised three months ago that 4G services of BSNL would be rolled out in June, the BSNL customers are yet to hear about it. It is true that the government moves slowly; for a government entity such as BSNL, approvals for venturing into newer services or upgrading the existing services take a very long time. The BSNL has to move faster in order to upgrade its facilities and remain competitive in the market. The BSNL has lost substantial revenue which it could have earned with 4G services as the private players did. The BSNL should start rolling out 4G services without further delay as the world is going to enter 5G era.

The BSNL has around 1.80 lakh mobile subscribers in the state and close to 2 lakh landline subscribers. The number of customers could have been even more had it not been for poor and unreliable services of BSNL. While private operators took an increasing share of the market with the burgeoning demand for faster and better mobile connectivity and internet services, the BSNL is still struggling to offer reliable 3G services. Many customers of the government-owned company migrated to private operators taking advantage of porting options offered by the government. The reason behind BSNL retaining its clients is perhaps that its tariffs are lower as compared to private operators and no hidden costs are added. The BSNL office in Goa is the most profitable office of the government-owned telecom operator which registered a profit of Rs 17 crore in 2017-18. Incidentally landline services including broadband contribute most to the profits. The demand for landline service is on decline following the arrival of mobiles, but the landline segment still continued to be a money spinner. Though mobiles are favourite among the youth the state’s sizeable population of senior citizens still relies on landline services. As landlines are commonly used by senior citizens, the BSNL management has to ensure that the services continue uninterrupted so that old people could use them, especially in emergencies.

There have been complaints from all corners about the BSNL neglecting its customers. To remain competitive the BSNL has to upgrade its facilities as well as speedily address complaints. There are  allegations that some officials of the BSNL are hand in glove with private operators and been deliberately neglecting the complaints so as to frustrate their customers to move to private operators. The BSNL management could do well to detect the black sheep in the company and give them punishment. Being a government company, the BSNL does not have a hands-on approach to addressing complaints: it is done at a lethargic pace. It is in the interest of the company to ensure that BSNL services in telephony as well as internet are kept running uninterrupted, for any interruption means loss of revenue. The BSNL should also provide value added services (VAS), which have huge growth potential, at no cost or very low cost in order to attract new customers while retaining the old ones. Private telecom companies have been using value added services as a revenue stream and the BSNL should become proactive to put its wider reach and strength to its advantage.

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