State-owned Indian operator Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) is apparently planning to sell 10,000 of its 68,000 towers with an estimated value of 4,000 crore (about US$501 million).
The sale will help it to meet targets laid out as part of what is called its national monetisation pipeline (NMP). KPMG is expected to have a role as financial advisor ahead of the sale.
BSNL provides telecom services in every part of the country except Mumbai and Delhi where another state-run company, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL), operates.
According to India’s Economic Times, BSNL is only selling towers that have co-location arrangements with third party telecom service providers such as Reliance Jio and Airtel. Nearly 70% of BSNL’s towers are fiberised and ready for deployment for 4G and 5G services, making them appealing to potential buyers.
Although it has not been specifically stated, tower infrastructure sharing or leaseback would be the likeliest way for BSNL to continue offering services without having to manage so much passive infrastructure. In any case, as part of NMP targets, BSNL has to sell 13,567 towers by financial year 2025 and MTNL has to sell 1,350 towers.
The context for this activity is an attempt to revive the fortunes of the loss-making BSNL. This includes a recent massive infusion of government money into BSNL and a planned merger of BSNL with special purpose vehicle Bharat Broadband Network to boost rural connectivity and increase broadband penetration.
However, most of the money given to BSNL appears to be directed at 4G service provision. The government has insisted that BSNL uses made in India 4G and 5G, which potentially puts it at a disadvantage compared to major private operators. As does the 4G timescale: a pan-India 4G rollout by BSNL is still at least 18 months away.