Bangladesh’s Grameenphone to invest in 3G

Vivek SoodThe head of Bangladesh’s largest mobile phone company said Tuesday it is ready to invest millions of dollars to prepare for 3G operations after gaining spectrum in the country’s first open 3G auction.

On Sunday, Grameenphone Ltd. won 10 megahertz of spectrum with a bid of $21 million for each megahertz.

Three other private companies — Banglalink, the local subsidiary of Egypt’s Orascom Telecom; Robi, a joint venture between Malaysia’s Axiata Group and Japan’s NTT DoCoMo; and Airtel, majority-owned by India’s Bharti Airtel — also won bids for 5 megahertz of spectrum each at a price of $105 million.

State-owned Teletalk, which began 3G operations on an experimental basis last year, will also pay $210 million for 10 megahertz of spectrum.

Grameenphone, a subsidiary of Norwegian telecom giant Telenor ASA, has 44 million subscribers and a 42 percent market share. Telenor owns 55.8 percent of Grameenphone, with Grameen Telecom owning 34.2 percent.

Since 1997, when Grameenphone started its operations in Bangladesh, it has invested more than $2.5 billion.

Vivek Sood, Grameenphone’s chief executive officer, said in an interview that it was an “exciting moment” to offer third-generation mobile telecom service in Bangladesh, which has a population of 160 million.

The company is eyeing Bangladesh’s largely untapped Internet market because 3G can offer relatively high-speed Internet data transfer. Although the country has almost 107 million cellphone users, the number of Internet users is around 30 million, according to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission. But telecom operators say the real figure is much smaller.

“I am pleased with the outcome of the auction,” he said. “Now it’s the time to start our journey. Definitely we are on the competitive edge.”

Last month, the International Finance Corp., the private sector arm of the World Bank, helped raise a $345 million loan for Grameenphone through a consortium to increase its network capacity and build more infrastructure in rural Bangladesh.

“We have a vision of Internet for all, we are moving forward with a massive plan,” he said. “There are options for providing e-education, mobile health services through use of 3G.”

“This is the way we are looking at our plans for 3G.”
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