State-run BSNL vows to match Jio 'tariff by tariff'

Reliance Jio has certainly shaken the telecom market by introducing plans that include free voice calling, free national roaming, and data at fraction of the cost of incumbents – but the public sector Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) says it expects to match the intense competition "tariff-by-tariff".

Being state-owned, BSNL is perhaps the only telco with pockets deep enough to match the Mukesh Ambani-controlled Jio, but it has struggled in the mobile telephony market due to the inefficiencies inherent in a state-run concern. On Tuesday, BSNL chairman and managing director Anupam Shrivastava told PTI that Reliance Jio's entry into the market was a "challenge" for all operators, but said it will adopt an aggressive stance on tariffs going forward.

BSNL, which unveiled a promotional unlimited wireline broadband plan that effectively translates to less than Re1 per GB download cost for very high-usage subscribers a day after Reliance Jio made public its 4G plans, believes it is in a position to match Reliance Jio's tariffs successfully.

"It is a question of survival in the market ... there is no other way but to match Jio, tariff by tariff. If tariff of Jio is aggressive, the tariff of BSNL and of all other operators is also going to be aggressive," Shrivastava said.

Terming Jio's entry as a "challenge for all operators", Shrivastava said competition is good for consumers as it ushers better offerings.

"As far as challenge is concerned, we cannot wish it away ... I believe BSNL is in a position to match Reliance Jio's tariffs most successfully, because we are an incumbent operator. We are a landline and optical fibre operator so our broadband tariff rides on our own network ... we don't have to start procuring, investing and then come out with offerings," he said.

On whether Reliance Jio's entry would also prompt BSNL into announcing more aggressive tariffs, Shrivastava said, "Absolutely, there is no doubt."

BSNL offers unlimited night calling on any network in the country between 9 pm to 7 am as complimentary service for all its landline customers. Last month, it announced that its landline subscribers will be able to make free unlimited calls on any mobile or landline number in the country on Sundays.

BSNL has also announced a national unlimited 3G mobile data plan for Rs1,099 and doubled the data usage limit in some existing plans, to counter competition.

Asked if BSNL too would consider giving free voice calls for its mobile subscribers, Shrivastava said, "We will think about it ... in the next 2-3 months, we will see the impact of what is happening in the market. We could consider giving voice free from our network but after charging some fixed monthly rate ... fixed-mobile convergence may be the basis of free voice calls."