Indian telecom equipment manufacturers want level-playing field in Kochi-Lakshadweep undersea cable project

Going against the grain of ‘Make in India’ and ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ campaigns of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, bureacrats are about to hand out a major undersea cable to foreign vendors.

The tender for the ₹1,072-crore Kochi-Lakshadweep Islands undersea optical fibre cable link project, approved by the Cabinet in December last year, is going out to foreign players, say Indian equipment makers.

While Indian players have been demanding level-playing field vis-a-vis foreign players from the Department of Telecom (DoT) and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), which will execute the project, government sources said certain clauses of the tender document would enable only one or two foreign players to bid for the project meant connect the mainland with 11 islands in Lakshdweep.

While the tender is expected to come out soon, industry bodies such as the Telecom Equipment Manufacturers Association (TEMA) and the PHD Chambers of Commerce have written to Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Cabinet Secretary; Principle Scientific Advisor; Niti Aayog CEO; Telecom Secretary; USOF Administrator; as well as BSNL CMD, highlighting how Indian telecom companies have been left in the lurch.

They have written around 20 letters over the last few months, requesting for a level-playing fieldwhen the tenders are floated. BusinessLine has seen the letters.

Technology-agnostic

They also wrote recently to Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, who heads the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, saying unless the tender is ‘technology-agnostic’ no Indian player will be able to bid.

They said Indian companies are being approached by many foreign players for forming a consortium, but these foreign players, too, are wary of the tender document, which they feel would favour only one or two firms.

The two industry bodies have objected to BSNL’s move of framing the tender on the lines of the Chennai-Andaman Nicobar Islands (CANI) Submarine Cable project, which the Prime Minister dedicated to the nation last year.

Project CANI was won by a Japanese consortium of NEC Technologies India Pvt Ltd (NECTI) with a single bid, it said, adding that the company won the project by using the experience of NEC Japan (parent company), as per the eligibility conditions of the tender and executed the entire project.

“Similarly, Indian companies can use the experience of their foreign consortium partners to meet the eligibility conditions and participate to complete the KLI project,” said TEMA.

Choice of technology

TEMA and PHD Chamber also objected to the choice of technology in the project and demanded that it should be ‘technology-agnostic’. They pointed out that a high-powered multi-department committee, set up by the DoT, has recommended the use of ‘Repeatered Technology’ for the longest link between Kochi to Minicoy Island, while for the rest of the segments ‘Repeaterless Technology’ is recommended.

The expensive Repeatered Technology is used for such distances where the Optical Fibre cannot transmit the signal without using signal boosters where the repeaters work as a signal booster, they explained.

“The Repeatered Technology becomes expensive due to specialised cable design and costly repeaters and costly Submarine Line Terminal Equipment (SLTE). Besides this the maintenance of the Repeatered Cable becomes expensive, too. In the case of submarine cable damage, Repeatered Cable repair costs $1 million, whereas the Repeaterless Cable repair cost only $0.5 million. However, up to the distance of 600 km, Repeaterless Technology is sufficient as per the requirement of high bandwidths and very low losses of the signal,” they mentioned.

“TEMA strongly asserts that the capex and opex in the KLI Submarine Cable project will be much less than the currently proposed Repeatered Technology. If the government would like to use the Repeatered Technology in the project, then the entire project should be divided into two separate tenders between Repeatred and Repeaterless Sections, as both the technologies are completely different,” they added. The Hindu BusinessLine

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