The Department of Telecommunications has received 21 bids from telecom operators and infrastructure service providers for the Rs 2,395 crore (Rs 23.95 billion) rural telephony project.
The project, to extend mobile telephony services to under-served rural areas, is to be funded from the government's Universal Service Obligation fund.
Confirming this, industry sources said DoT has received bids from service providers like Reliance Communications, Hutch-Essar, Bharti Airtel and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd among others.
Among infrastructure providers, companies like GTL, Quippo and I-Tel are believed to have submitted bids. A couple of companies have made multiple bids through their various subsidiaries, they added.
Unconfirmed reports suggest that certain infrastructure companies like I-Com and Newtek have not submitted bids for the project.
The bids were opened on Tuesday for verifying the pre-qualified bidders. The verification processes include the checking of bank guarantees and worthiness of these companies.
DoT would announce the names of the pre-qualified bidders on March 6 and the closed financial bids will be opened on March 7. Names of the short-listed firms would be made public on March 14, while the final list of winners would be announced on March 26.
Extension of mobile phone services to the under-served rural areas has been an important policy initiative of the government as it feels that it is easier and faster to provide wireless connectivity in these areas.
The project aims to use mobile network and technology to improve rural telephony penetration from the present level of 1.8 per cent.