In an ambitious move to connect India’s farthest corners, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) has kickstarted the installation of 20,000 4G towers across the country. This initiative is part of the government’s 4G saturation plan, aiming to bring 4G connectivity to all areas, especially those where connectivity is scarce due to challenging terrain or geopolitical boundaries.
The project, approved last year, officially began in February 2023 and is expected to be executed over 500 days. An investment of ₹26,316 crore has been earmarked for the project from the Universal Service Obligation Fund. It aims to cover about 25,000 villages, most of which currently lack any form of connectivity, emphasizing the importance of this initiative in bridging the digital divide.
The project coincides with BSNL’s own 4G services rollout, utilizing technology developed by India’s Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT). A pilot with 200 4G sites has already been set up in Punjab, with a commercial launch planned soon. BSNL has also placed an advance purchase order of more than ₹15,000 crore with Tata Consultancy Services and ITI Ltd in May.
This large-scale initiative will cover 24,680 villages that currently lack connectivity, necessitating 16,464 towers. An additional provision for about 5,000 villages has been provided, which will result in an additional 3,258 towers. The total number of towers is thus set to exceed 19,700, bringing 4G coverage to more than 29,000 villages.
By 2024, the government aims to connect all of India’s approximately 640,000 villages with 4G services. As of now, 575,000 villages have mobile telephony and data connectivity, some of which only have access to 2G or 3G networks.
In contrast, private telecom service providers such as Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel offer their voice and data services to over 1 billion people across the country.
The BSNL’s significant push towards connecting India’s remote areas under the 4G saturation plan is an important step in reducing the digital divide and fostering inclusive growth. It will be interesting to see how this initiative shapes the future of India’s telecom landscape and how private players respond to it.