BSNL to decide GSM order by end-July

CIOL Bureau
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NEW DELHI: State-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, India's largest telecoms firm by sales, will announce the winner of its mega order for GSM-based telecoms gear by end-July, a top company official said.

New Delhi-based BSNL -- the country's third largest provider of wireless services -- is furiously expanding its mobile networks and had floated a tender for 11 million GSM lines, the largest so far in India's booming cellular market.

"The order may be announced within a fortnight. Nortel has emerged the lowest bidder," N.K. Mangla, BSNL's director for marketing, said. "The evaluations have been completed. We are in the process of discussions with the vendor."

Analysts have estimated the order to be worth about a billion dollars. Domestic media had earlier reported Finnish giant Nokia had also been shortlisted by BSNL for a part of the contract.

The telecoms gear will be installed in the northern, eastern and southern parts of India.

Global telecoms gear makers such as Nortel Networks Corp., Motorola Inc and Ericsson have aggressively tapped into India's under-penetrated mobile sector where less than four in a 100 people own a handset.

Indian carriers have announced a spate of equipment orders so far in the year to expand networks in the fastest growing major wireless market in the world.

Unlisted BSNL -- which competes mainly with Bharti Tele-Ventures Ltd, powerful business groups Reliance and Tatas and the Indian mobile unit of Hutchison Whampoa group -- has 5.8 million GSM users.

"I expect BSNL will exhaust 15 million GSM lines by December 2005 and our user base will be 25 million customers," Mangla said.

BSNL, which operates across the country except in the two main markets of Delhi and Bombay, also provides mobile services based on the code division multiple access platform.

India has more than 38 million mobile users and the number is expected to touch 100 million by 2005 as one of the lowest call rates in the world are luring customers.