Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Bangladesh: 4G Race

Bangladesh has three main operators, Grameenphone, Robi-Axiata and Banglalink. They have a combined share of 96 per cent of the country’s mobile connections, and each recently paid $1.2 million for a 4G licence. With all operators 2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz. 3G up to HSPA+ on 2100 MHz is still in the population centers mostly. In 2017 the regulator has made all licenses technology-neutral and will give out new spectrum in 2018. The three operators have started 4G/LTE in February 2018, in parts of capital city Dhaka and other major cities.

Meanwhile the total number of mobile phone subscriptions in Bangladesh has reached 147 million at the end of January, 2018.


Grameenphone (Bengali: গ্রামীণফোন) is a joint venture between Norway's Telenor and Grameen Telecom Corp. It's the largest operator in the country with more than 65 million subscribers or an approx. 43% market share.

It started with 3G in 2013 and reaches a 90% of population coverage by 3G in 2016. Full 3G coverage is expected by 2020. 4G/LTE has started in 2018 in Dampara, Khulshi and Nasirabad in Chittagong.

Generally, they are considered the most reliable provider for internet in the country at the highest prices.  

Robi Axiata Limited is the second largest mobile phone operator of Bangladesh and the first operator to introduce GPRS and 3.5G services in the country. The company has introduced many first of its kind digital services in the country and has invested heavily in taking mobile financial services to the underserved communities in the rural and semi-urban areas.

It is a joint venture between Axiata Group Berhad, of Malaysia, Bharti Airtel Limited, of India and NTT DoCoMo Inc., of Japan. Axiata holds 68.7% controlling stake in the entity, Bharti holds 25% while the remaining 6.3% is held by NTT DOCOMO of Japan.

Having successfully completed the merger process, Robi has emerged as the second largest mobile phone operator in Bangladesh with approximately 44 million active subscribers. The merged company has the widest network coverage to 99% of the population with over 13,900 on-air sites of which over 8,000 are 3.5G sites.

At a Robi Axiata launch event on 20 February 2018, BTRC chairman Shahjahan Mahmood said: “We have started our journey with 4G from today. BTRC is also thinking about 5G. Our main aim is to ensure that the subscribers get good quality of service.”

Robi Axiata MD and CEO Mahtab Uddin Ahmed said: “We are proud to launch the long-awaited 4G service in the country today. With a greater amount of spectrum compared to our competitors, we are ready to serve the best quality 4G service to our subscribers. We are confident that with government support, we will be able to complete the Digital Bangladesh vision by 2021 powered by the blistering speed of 4G service.”

To make 4G successful in Bangladesh, he said the government should consider reducing taxes on compatible devices, lowering the duty on equipment, introducing special incentives for rolling out service in rural areas, resolving all pending VAT disputes and move to a unified licensing regime like some neighbouring countries.

Banglalink (Bengali: বাংলালিংক) is a fully owned company of Telecom Ventures Ltd, which is a 100% owned subsidiary of Global Telecom Holding. Launched in February 2005, with over 30 million subscribers over a decade, Banglalink was the catalyst in making mobile telephony an affordable option for consumers in Bangladesh. It has a 26% market share serving all 64 districts by 2G and since 2014 by 3G too. They started in Dhakar in 2013 with 3G and cover at least all towns by now. 4G/LTE started in Feburary 2018 in Chittagong and Khulna.

The initial success of Banglalink was based on a simple mission: “Bringing mobile telephony to the masses ”, which was the cornerstone of Banglalink’s strategy. 

Banglalink took the 10.6 MHz spectrum from different two bands – 2100 and 1800, with a price of Tk2,558 crore.

Teletalk Bangladesh Ltd., brand name Teletalk (Bengali: টেলিটক) is a state-owned mobile phone company. It's the smallest operator of all mobile phone services in Bangladesh with a 2% market share caring for only 4.5 million out of 147 million mobile users. Unfortunately it has been criticized for its unreliable service and general bad coverage.

The Bangladeshi government has rebranded Teletalk in March 2016 in an attempt to accelerate the operator’s financial recovery as it has generated a loss of nearly BDT 4 billion. Teletalk will get a room at every post office as part of the rebranding. Furthermore, Teletalk wants to expand its network through partnerships with private operators.

Mustafa Jabbar, minister for telecommunication and information technology, said the state-run mobile operator is likely to launch the 4G service in May.

“Teletalk has a plan to launch the service in all divisional cities with its own finance of nearly Tk 200 crore.”

Another top official of the operator said right now the operator's main aim is to take the licence. It has to pay Tk 10 crore to the regulator today for the licence.

But the top officials of the operator seem to have little idea on how they will pay the technological neutrality fee amounting to $36.2 million in order for it to become capable of running the 4G.

Without paying the neutrality fee, no operator will be able to introduce the faster data service. In fact, the fee and other dues have to be cleared before they get the licence, according to the 4G guideline.

In 2016/7 they installed 685 new 2G base transceiver stations (BTS) and 559 3G BTS, plus upgrade Teletalk’s core network. In 2018 Teletalk signed a network sharing pact with Robi Axiata to share all cell sites in the country.

The efforts to deploy 4G and the infrastructure building and increase in connectivity are indeed very positive developments in Bangladesh. We hope they will continue on this road and be well-prepared for the advent of 5G. 

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