India’s smallest mobile operator MTNL is lining up an INR1.9 billion ($27.9 million) investment to upgrade its network.
Department of Telecommunications (DoT) minister Manoj Sinha noted that the state-run operator may also be allocated 4G spectrum by the government. MTNL provides services in New Delhi and Mumbai and is the metropolitan counterpart to BSNL, which is active in India’s remaining 20 service areas.
4G spectrum would be a lifeline for MTNL, which has a market share of less than 1%. Fellow state-run operator BSNL also has a spectrum handicap, and due to this, Sinha stated: “We are seriously considering how to provide them 4G spectrum so that they can become a viable and a major player in telecom sector.”
He added: “Now we are attempting to make [MTNL’s] services better, and after a long time MTNL is investing money in improving its network and services. I feel they will roll out something in the next three to four months.”
In June 2017, BNSL asked for a 5MHz block of 700MHz spectrum to enable it to launch 4G services in exchange for an equity infusion. The Indian government had held spectrum auctions in October 2016, but neither MTNL nor BSNL entered a bid.
BSNL is India’s fifth largest operator with a 9% share of the market. At the end of Q1 this year, it had around 110 million connections, with 81% of these being 2G connections. MTNL meanwhile had 3.6 million, with a roughly equal amount of 2G and 3G connections.