While we had focused on the last 18 years of BSNL and its condition in the hyper-competitive sector in the previous edition of PSU Talk, now we will focus on what awaits it over the next two to five years.While the competition (disruption) is not going to let up any time soon and retail pricing may not move up significantly for the foreseeable future, BSNL has significant ammunition to stage a recovery; both from the financial as well as market positioning standpoints.
By virtue of all the investments made over the previous decades, BSNL has arguably the best wired network with pan India connectivity. These wired assets have not really been used at the optimal productivity yet and hence, it would be time for BSNL to think of ways to monetise them -- especially as private operators are evaluating solutions for challenges associated with last mile connectivity. BSNL could work on a revenue share approach with business partners to provide the back-bone for service providers to cater to consumers.
With investments already made, BSNL would do well to earn some returns, even if it means offering services to competition. It may, thus, become a carrier of carriers and augment its earnings considerably. BSNL has more than 70,000 towers (most connected by optical fibre) and more than 700,000 km of optical fibre cable (OFC). Whereas a subsidiary company has been incorporated for towers about a year ago, it is yet to be fully operationalised. This needs immediate implementation. OFC assets should also be considered for hiving off immediately to monetize the same.
BSNL owns land and buildings across the country and most are in prime locations. It could potentially monetise some and generate funds to finance investment. I understand a lot of preliminary and preparatory work has already been done towards this, but delays need to be addressed. While this initiative is not reflective of the telecom business, it could be critical to generate funds for technology transformation with BSNL reeling under huge (and industry incompatible) employee costs due to legacy reasons.
While any specific example may be anecdotal, BSNL could seek to service all government departments and PSUs with all the licensed services including state of the art Fiber to the Home/office (FTTx), wireless and enterprise services. Several PSUs avail services from private operators even today. Such initiatives will also result in effective utilisation of BSNL assets, help shore up its financial health and boost subscriber base.
The Government of India had launched the Virtual Network Operators license and policy during the summer of 2016. While BSNL is the only operator till date to sign up VNO License holders, it could become the host operator of choice by enabling more VNOs to empanel and launch services rapidly. While it has taken the first step, BSNL is in a prime position to do a whole lot more to benefit from this. It is believed that VNOs could generate revenues of `28,000 crore and BSNL could seek to add at least `14,000 crore to its bottom-line.
Looking ahead, it may be a blessing if BSNL is able to capitalise on the 5G revolution. Given the completely different technology paradigm from 4G, it should focus all its resources in bringing 5G services to India before anyone else.. This would help bridge its deficit in the marketplace. During the year, it has already signed numerous MoUs to commence initial engagements on 5G.
While I had discussed this topic in the previous edition, BSNL should continue to focus on the transformation of its human capital. In the marketplace, the customer market share of BSNL has diminished to approximately 10 per cent or slightly lower. Under these circumstances, the biggest “soft” asset for most successful services enterprises should not remain a drag for BSNL and hence, the priority should remain on repositioning BSNL as a young, ambitious and customer focused enterprise delivering service with a smile. This would be pivotal in the financial turnaround of the enterprise.
As BSNL turns 18, it has all the weapons needed in its arsenal to drive forward to a bright and successful future. The choices made over the next few years will determine the fate of public sector operators in Indian telecommunication space. (This is the final part of the PSU Talk column which appeared in the November 22, 2018 issue)