MTNL investing Rs190 cr to upgrade services; may get 4G spectrum: report

State-run telecom service provider Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) is in the process of investing Rs190 crore to upgrade its services and stay relevant in the highly competitive market, reports quoting telecom minister Manoj Sinha said.

The Department of Telecom (DoT) is "seriously considering" alloting 4G spectrum to state-run Mahanagar Telephone Nigam (MTNL), which serves New Delhi and Mumbai, and Bharat Sanchar Nigam (BSNL), which serves the rest of the country, he said.

"Now we are attempting to make its (MTNL) services better and after a long time MTNL is investing money in improving its network and services, both in New Delhi and Mumbai. I feel they will rollout something in the next three to four months and their services will be better," PTI quoted Sinha as saying.

He said the state-run firm is investing Rs190 crore in the project that will see it install new base transceiver stations, among other initiatives, despite its huge debt burden.

With a net debt of around Rs16,870 crore as of December 2017, MTNL is in a very bad financial, Sinha said, adding that the company is finding it difficultbto service loans taken for acquisition of costly 3G spectrum.

MTNL, however, managed to narrow its losses to Rs639.01 crore in the quarter ended December 2017, from Rs819.96 crore in the same quarter of 2016. Its total income stood at Rs852.64 crore in the quarter, against Rs 836.43 crore in the previous year quarter.

The company is yet to report March quarter and full year numbers.

The minister also said the government is thinking of allowing the two telcos to monetise excess assets that are, however, owned by multiple entities, including the company, the DoT and the Government of India.

He said the DoT is selling off the assets it holds and also promised to take other sale proposals involving government of India-owned assets to the cabinet.

The minister, however, declined to give an estimate of the amounts that can be raised through asset sales and the timelines for such an exercise.

Sinha also noted the both MTNL and BSNL are handicapped by lack of requisite spectrum and that DoT is seriously considering how to provide them 4G spectrum so that they remain competitive in the market.

The parliamentary standing committee on information technology had in March asked the government to allocate 4G spectrum to the two telcos at the earliest to help them compete and survive in the market.

Both the companies have also submitted proposals for launching 4G services where they operate with government support on spectrum.

BSNL operates in 20 telecom circles, while MTNL has operations in the remaining two areas of Delhi and Mumbai.

Sinha said BSNL has been reporting operating profit for the last three years and has gained market share despite the entry of Reliance Jio resulting in a decline for other entrenched companies.

Introduction of internet telephony will be a big positive for BSNL, the minister added.