The two alphabets are sticking to each other The telecom industry in Bangladesh accounts roughly for about 6% of its GDP. However the industry in the country needs to catch up with the technology in the telecom sector which is thriving in other Saarc countries. With 3G still waiting to come in, the country is far lagging behind in the telecom technology than its Saarc counterparts. Bangladesh Telecom Regulatory Commission (BTRC) made several promises in the past that the 3G licenses would be sold off shortly but sales never have taken place and the regulator is still stressing on the guidelines for 3G licensing.
Bangladesh’s population stands at 150 mn out of which 78 mn is enabled with cellular services which still leaves a large part of the population untouched from the mobile services. The country has 6 cellular operators-Grameenphone, Robi Axiata, Banglalink, CityCell, Teletalk, and Airtel Bangladesh.
Grameenphone is the leading operator in the mobile front in terms of revenue, coverage, and subscriber base. It was also the first company to introduce GSM technology in the country. The subscribers of the company stood at 34 mn by July 2011 with a growth of 29% compared to last year covering 44% of the market share. The company was first incorporated on October 10, 1996 as a private limited company and got converted to a public limited company on June 25, 2007. The company has 13,000 base stations and 7,200 operational sites in the country and its network covered 99% of the population and 89% of the total land area as of Dec 2010. It runs a digital mobile telecommunications network based on the GSM standard in the 900 MHz and 1,800 Mhz frequency bands.
The operator Robi Axiata is a joint venture company between Axiata Group Berhad Malaysia with 70% share and NTT DOCOMO INC, Japan holding 30% share of the company, respectively. The company was formerly known as Telekom Malaysia International (Bangladesh) and commenced operations in the country in 1997 with the name AKTEL Connectivity. It is the third largest mobile phone operator in Bangladesh with more than 14 mn subscribers as of July 2011. The operator got the tag of being the first operator to launch GPRS in the country. The company has the benefit of the international expertise of Axiata and NTT DOCOMO INC. And supports 2G voice, camel phase 2 &3, and GPRS/EDGE with high-speed internet connectivity.
Banglalink also known as Orascom Telecom Bangladesh is the 2nd largest cellular service provider in the country after Grameen phone and is fully owned by Orascom Telecom holding, in Egypt also known as ‘oth’. Banglalink got acquired by oth in 2004 and currently has a subscriber base of 21 mn as of July 2011 with a market share of 27.03%. The company in August 2006 became the first company to provide free incoming calls from Bangladesh telegraph and telephone board.
The other Operator Citycell is the only CDMA mobile operator in the country and is the earliest cellular service provider of Bangladesh with a subscriber base of 1.7mn. It is also termed as Pacific Bangladesh Telecom and was converted into a public limited company on March 28, 2008. The company is currently owned by Singapore Telecommunications with 45% stake and the rest 55% is owned by Pacific Group and Far East Telecom. The operator network is available throughout Bangladesh. Citycell’s network is available in 6 divisions and 64 districts of the country. Citycell has one customer care center for each division in the country and 500 customer care points scattered across the country.
Teletalk Bangladesh holding a subscriber base of 1.1 mn is a public limited company registered under the registrar of the joint stock companies of Bangladesh and the company’s shares are totally owned by the Government of the Bangladesh. It got incorporated on December 26, 2004 as a public limited company under the Companies Act 1994 and since it was the only government sponsored mobile telephone company of the country it obtained certificate of commencement of business on the same day. The company’s services includes GPRS, push-pull services, SMS, ISD and EISD, mobile applications through GPRS, and voice SMS
Airtel Bangladesh in January 2010 acquired 70% stake in Warid Telecom and so the name Warid Bangladesh converted to Airtel Bangla. The company is investing to continuously expand its operations. The company has a subscriber base of about 5 mn as of June 2011.
Fixed and Broadband
The fixed phone market shook in the first half of 2010 when BTRC shut down 5 operators and an estimated 700,000 customers were disconnected. The regulator took this action as part of a major action against illegal VoIP services. Still the fixed phone subscribers increased from 1.66 mn in 2009 to 2 mn in the year 2010 with a growth of 20% however the fixed phone penetration remains as low as 1.2% in the country
On the fixed front the country has 8 operators-BTCL, Telebarta, Bijoy Phone, Onetel Communication, Westec, Sheba Phone (ISL), SA Telecom System and Banglaphone.
Bangladesh Telecommunications Company (BTCL) has all its shares under the government of Bangladesh. The company provides landline telephone services in the urban areas, domestic long-distance calling, and international services. It began operations on July 1, 2008. The company boasts of being the most accessible internet service provider in the country providing dial-up internet access in all 64 districts of the country and even provides broadband ADSL services offering 2 Mbps minimum download speed.
Bijoy Phone is another PSTN operator in the country providing fixed phone services in the north eastern zone of Bangladesh and offers both standard wired phone (CLL) and wireless phone connection (WLL) in postpaid as well as prepaid format. On the VAS front, the company provides services like caller ID, call waiting/holding, voice mail services, etc.
Onetel Communication provides services in the Rajshahi division in the North West zone of the country having 16 districts. The company has established 3 customer service centers in Rajshahi, Bogra, and Rangpur. Onetel provides both prepaid and postpaid services. On the technology front, it uses CDMA 2000-1x.
Banglaphone was established in 2004 by a team of Bangladeshi and US telecom engineers to render different telecom services both within and outside the country. It provides services like managed network internet access and voice services. The company is the first operator in Bangladesh to introduce next-generation IP phone and video phone service along with IP PBX system allowing a customer to set up his own phone box exchange at his premise.
The first internet connection got established in the country in as early as 1996 but the growth which the country saw is quite satisfactory. The total number of internet users touched 6 mn as of January 2011. The number was only 6 lakh in the year 2008 which reflects the humongous growth of internet penetration in the country in recent years. However the internet penetration remains still low in the country. 3G is still a dream in the nation with the BTRC rapidly delaying its auction the country is far behind in telecom technology compared to other Saarc nations.
Despite several efforts being made by the government to get the internet prices down for consumers the charges of the broadband services are quite high in the country compared to other Saarc nations. Broadband is legally defined as 128 Kbps in the country which does not stand compatible with the International Telecommunication Union. Therefore the consumer using broadband services in the state may not be recognized as broadband services in other countries.
The number of WiMax subscribers has reached 80,000 as of January 2011, thanks to the 2 fast growing operators-Qubee and Banglalion-who commenced their operations in 2009. The country owned Bangladesh Telecommunications company expanded its network upto the sub-districts known as Upazilas of the country.
BTRC is taking several initiatives to make the internet available to every citizen of the country. The recent reduction in the price of the monthly rental bandwidth is one such initiative by the regulator
BTRC has even taken the initiative to build NIXs in the country to connect the ISPs under which all the ISPs would be linked by a National Internet Exchange (NIX). The decision of the government of Bangladesh to issue licenses to private entrepreneurs for setting up and maintenance of 2 submarine cables and 3 terrestrial fiber links in the country is a classic example of government’s urgent intention to make the telecommunications and internet facilities more convenient.
That’s not all, the government has started the selling of VoIP licenses for handling international calls to lessen up the routing of international calls by illegal VoIP operators. Since it has become a lucrative business as the technology offers international calls at charges much lower than legal costs, the government’s decision should meet with a very good response from the telecommunications industry in Bangladesh.
Qubee, one amongst the 2 WiMax service providers in Bangladesh providing services in Dhaka, Chittagong, and Sylhet recently doubled its internet speed to provide the fastest internet service to its customers at no extra cost. The initiative taken by the company is making its customers smile for sure.
Another WiMax service provider Banglalion has its network present in 7 divisional headquarters Dhaka, Chittagong, Sylhet, Rajshahi, Khulna, Rangpur, and Barisal and has a nationwide license in 2.5 GHz band.
Agni Systems, an ISP of Bangladesh, commenced its operations in 1995 with only dial-up service and later started providing ADSL and wireless broadband services as well.
Bijoy Online, a division of Bijoy Phone, started its operations in the year 2000 coming up with the dial-up service equipped with 150 auto hunting lines and later the company launched services like video conferencing, BGP solutions, data connectivity service, VPN support, etc. The company has its own IP blocks and uses radio and fiber optic technology.
Metronet Bangladesh, a joint venture of Rahimafrooz Bangladesh, Flora telecom and Ferdous Azam Khan got incorporated in 2001 providing data and internet services, enterprise solutions, managed services, and IP telephony services. The company has been shaping its countrywide network in 43 districts of the country with continous extension.
Optimax Communication is another ISP of the country providing services like broadband internet, dial-up internet, web development, domain registration, network solution, internet through radio link, etc. The company has submarine cable supported optical fiber cable network at Gulshan-01, Gulshan-02, Banani, Baridhara, DOHS Baridhara, Mohakhali, Moghbazar, and Uttara.
Bangladesh remains one of the poorest, most densely populated, least developed countries on the globe yet it has somehow managed to show significant spirit in its approach to the development of its telecom sector. The country’s low PC penetration has contributed to the lack of knowledge regarding internet and data. The poor fixedline infrastructure and the limited availability of WiMax is proving as a great hindrance in the rapid growth of the internet users in the country. The price of handsets, mobile devices and data subscriptions are still not affordable to many consumers of the country and with the technologies like 3G still not having emerged in the country, competing with other Saarc nations in telecom space still remains a daunting task.
The country though has found a way to grow the sector inspite of the odds. This nation of 150 mn people, with its comparatively low GDP, has emerged as a very competitive mobile telephone market. The willingness of the country to encourage foreign participation is really praiseworthy.