The state-run carrier lost users between June and September
After a drop in mobile subscriber numbers soon after the government announced countrywide shutdown to flatten the curve on coronavirus, the industry began to win them back as the economy gradually reopened from June.
Since then, 56 lakh subscribers came on board, to take the subscriber base to a record 16.7 crore at the end of September, according to data from the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC).
During the period, all operators added users save for Teletalk: at the end of May, the state-owned mobile operator had 48.7 lakh subscribers, which came down to 46.1 lakh towards the end of September.
Inconsistent network coverage and weak signal strength were the key reasons behind people jumping from Teletalk, according to telecom industry insiders.
But its managing director Shahab Uddin offered a different perspective.
When the garment workers and those from low-income groups, the majority of whom used Teletalk, left for their villages before the countrywide shutdown, the lack of extensive network coverage in rural areas forced them to use other network operators, he said.
Projects were underway to establish and strengthen the network in those areas. But, there were some delays due to the ongoing pandemic, he added.
The network crisis in some areas forced subscriber numbers to drop, said Mustafa Jabbar, posts, telecommunications and information technology minister.
The use of mobile internet soared during the pandemic as most activities, including classes, moved online, and that is where Teletalk was found wanting.
“You cannot use the internet with 2G speed,” Jabbar said, adding that the projects that were taken to upgrade Teletalk never finished. As a result, its 4G upgrade work also could not begin.
For many years Teletalk was not given the due attention from the policymakers, which is why it could not become a formidable player in the market.
“The other operators like Grameenphone invest Tk 40,000 crore for network upgrade while we spend only Tk 3,600 crore,” the minister added.
Teletalk started its journey in March 2005 as the country’s fifth operator.
The state-run operator got a head start when 3G was rolled out in Bangladesh in 2012: it was allowed to offer the service a full year before the others. But when it came to 4G, the operator was late to the party.
Between June and September, Grameenphone, the market leader, added 33.3 lakh users, Robi 20.9 lakh and Banglalink 4.4 lakh.