Solar powered $72 tablet from Bharat Electronics

Defence focused electronics company Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) is expanding its non-defence or civilian businesses. The PSU major, which is the leading supplier of radar, communication and electronic warfare equipments to the armed forces, is foraying into areas like tablet PCs and solar energy.

Over the last four-five months BEL's central research lab designed a basic tablet PC costing $72 that will be used by the rural development ministry to conduct a census study on people below the poverty line. A consortium consisting of BEL, Electronics Corporation of India and Industrial Training Institute will conduct the study.

The tablet is powered by Android version 2.2, and runs on a solar battery. Data can be stored and uploaded to a central server in real time. It can also be used as an e- reader. BEL has received orders for 6 lakh of these tablet PC units valued at Rs 250 crore, which it will deliver by November. BEL CMD Ashwani Kumar Datt said that the human resources ministry has also expressed interest in the tablet; the ministry's idea is to make available low-cost PCs to boost education in lower-income areas.

The Rs 5,635-crore company has identified homeland security as another area of opportunity. Datt said BEL would focus on large significant contracts such as securing big cities and states. BEL expects an order from the government in the next 4-5 weeks for setting up radar stations for coastal surveillance across 46 locations. "The contract has gone to the finance ministry for final clearance. The order is estimated to be about Rs 600 crore," Datt said.

BEL's entry into newer civilian areas are driven by two factors. First, to reduce over-dependence on the traditional defence business in the wake of increasing competition from global companies that are now allowed to participate in domestic contracts . Second, the company wants to enhance utilization of certain business units and plant locations such as those in Kotdwara and Panchkula.

"About a year back we undertook a study with KPMG to identify some of the newer business areas to enter into that are aligned with our competence," said Datt.

Civilian businesses currently contribute about 17% of the company's revenues.

This includes providing civilian radars to airports, weather related radars to ISRO , electronic voting machines to the Election Commission and transmitters to television channels.

In the first quarter of this fiscal BEL received an order book of Rs 1,058 crore, almost all of it in civilian businesses . The defence orders typically come in the subsequent quarters.

The company is bidding to supply nuclear power instrumentation for eight nuclear power stations being indigenously built by the Nuclear Power Council of India.

The contract is estimated to be around Rs 600-800 crore and BEL would be competing against other PSU and private firms.BEL also recently tied up with another PSU, Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd ( BHEL), for a foray into the solar energy business.

The joint venture plans to manufacture silicon wafer, and solar cells and modules. 

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