THE EXTENSION of mobile services across select Naxal-prone districts in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh is the government's highest priority. According to media reports the Centre is all set to select BSNL for this job keeping in mind issues related to internal security as well as an unwillingness of private operators to extend their services in disturbed and remote areas.
To start with, BSNL has demanded a subsidy of around Rs. 6000 crore spread over a five-year period from Universal Services Obligation Fund (USO Fund). The Telecom Commission, the highest decision making body in the telecom ministry, is likely to accept BSNL's demands to help the state-run company to build and operate a network of 2200 telecoms towers in Naxal-prone areas of the nine states.
However, as always it is not the funds but the utilization of the same that raises the questions. As per leading telecom analyst Mahesh Uppal, “BSNL surely needed the fund to subsidize their possible losses; however, what are the initiatives they take to check or minimize the further losses is to be seen.” It clearly proves that analysts will not like to discount the reeling PSU only for their brave initiatives but will also keep a close eye on the management decisions of strategy implementation.
“Have they removed the reasons of the losses that happened in past. It is to be seen what has been done to ensure that there will be profit in future or the loss will be reduced,” said Mahesh Uppal, a well-known telecom analyst.
However, with 37,185 villages reportedly outside the mobile loop, and private players not showing much interest in operating in remote and rural areas due to fear commercial loss, BSNL surely deserves applaud for the initiative. Also, within BSNL, there seems to be a sign of making a new start. "Mobile telephony started in 1996. BSNL got permit after five years in 2001 to start it. Within a year, BSNL acquired the top position. Shortage of equipment pulled us down but now we will strive to regain our leadership," said RK Upadhyay, CMD, BSNL, in a recent press interaction, indicating new energy in taking BSNL forward.
In the past, the company has faced consumer complaints regarding its poor network coverage, however, most seem to be happy about the overall performance. Akshat, a resident of Bangalore, who regularly treks on the Himalayas, says, “I do not think anybody will be more dependable than BSNL in the mountains. My BSNL SIM is as important a trekking gear to me as my shoes.”
Rana, another BSNL customer from West Bangal, says, “BSNL is the best option for students. You do not have to worry about any hidden charges every time you opt for a service. However, the calls getting disconnected suddenly or not finding coverage in a particular room of your house are common problems you will have to live with.”
To do away with consumer complaints, BSNL has geared itself to rectify the glitches in its services. To boost its network, which is handling huge traffic, the state-run company has also finalized equipment vendor ZTE, Huawei and Alcatel Lucent, for adding 14.37 million lines. The company has said that the orders it had placed with the vendors are sufficient for the betterment of services offered by the company. And it has also shown confidence that it would regain its market leadership with the help of the equipment.
Uppal said that the procurement of equipment and addition of the lines would improve the services of BSNL if it plugs the loopholes in network and technology. He added that it is also necessary to improve BSNL's marketing strategy and human resource development for the betterment of the state-run entity.
And he has a point. Compare the much-hyped Aakash tablet with the recently launched BSNL tablet – despite being of similar standard and price, the BSNL tablet is a lesser-known product in the market. Both the consumers this Citizen Journalist spoke with accepted that they were not aware of any such product. It only proves the fact that Marketing and PR is a concern with BSNL. At the same time, better awareness is a big opportunity as BSNL is well-suited and capable to lead in markets that are far-flung or are price-sensitive.
In today’s world how you reach out to your customers, and how you make them aware of your product matters a lot. “It will probably improve BSNL's services if it plugs the gaps in network and technology. There are other problems also that are impacting the services of the BSNL like marketing strategy and branding,” said Mahesh Uppal.
In the given scenario, it seems clear that passing of the Universal Services Obligation Fund (USO Fund) in favor of BSNL is only the start of the journey - with many hoping for BSNL to match and even beat its private sector contemporaries - not only in social responsibilities but as free-market competitors.
The most popular citizen journalists' reports on merinews chosen automatically on the basis of views and comments
View more jobs