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Mobile operators lukewarm on 5G after BTRC’s guideline

  • Published at 09:34 pm January 21st, 2021
Bangladesh's 5G roadmap

Ample discussions needed before introducing 5G in Bangladesh

Despite the telecom regulator drafting guidelines on the fifth-generation (5G) cellular networks recently, mobile operators said that at least 70 per cent of the country needs to be penetrated with 4G connectivity before making the big jump.

Besides, less than 30 per cent of the country's registered handsets are 4G compatible, so gearing for 5G at this point needs to be discussed extensively, they said.

Currently, 4G is only available in the divisional cities, with fluctuating network quality and internet speed. Thinking about transitioning to 5G now would not be wise, said telecom industry insiders.

The basic telecom infrastructure for 5G such as a robust optical fibre network, spectrum bandwidth and others are not extensively set up in Bangladesh like in other countries, said a top official of Robi requesting anonymity to speak candidly on the matter.

The draft guideline, which the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC uploaded on its website and sought feedback from key stakeholders, did not address the issue of handset as well, he said.

One of the primary reasons why both 3G and 4G services failed to take off in a big way commercially was the low penetration of compatible handsets when those technologies were rolled out in Bangladesh.

And in case of 5G, the handset penetration at less than 0.1 per cent is worse than the other two technology when the mobile operators were gearing up to roll them out, meaning there is not much of a business case for them to undertake the massive investment needed for the service.

The government aims to roll out 5G in 2023 and to every district headquarter by 2026, according to BTRC officials. 

Over in neighbouring India, which is expected to get the next generation of telecom networks towards the end of 2021, i.e. around the same time as in Bangladesh, 5G smartphones are increasingly becoming mainstream, meaning its mobile operators are now anticipating a robust user base well before the roll-out of services.

Since early 2020, all leading brands have begun rolling out 5G handsets in India, starting with the premium end of their portfolio. In the July-September quarter, more than 1 million 5G smartphones entered India, reports Business Standard.

The draft guideline says the 5G licence will unify all the existing licences. Currently, there are separate licences for 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services.

Those seeking 5G licences will have to pay Tk 10 crore to the BTRC for every year in advance, while 5.5 per cent of the annual audited gross revenue will also have to be paid every quarter within the first 10 days at the end of each quarter of a calendar year.

Mobile operators who have also paid performance bank guarantee (PBG) for providing 2G, 3G or 4G connectivity shall be exempted from paying the fee for 5G, the draft also said.

The guidelines also said that the government wants to make 5G affordable and accessible for everyone, which is why mobile operators, from their date of 5G licence issuance, will have to provide 5G services in 50 per cent of district headquarters within two years, and across the country in three years.

Introducing 5G in Bangladesh needs ample discussion for the betterment of the telecom industry and the country, said SM Farhad, secretary-general of the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh.

“It is still a work in progress,” he added.

Significant changes are needed to prepare the ecosystem for launching 5G, said Taimur Rahman, chief corporate and regulatory affairs officer of Banglalink.

“We are still at a very preliminary stage for 5G, as its ecosystem involves not only mobile telephony but many other industries.” 

However, Banglalink is reviewing the draft guidelines and will get back to BTRC with their recommendations soon, he added.

Grameenphone, the country’s leading mobile carrier, declined to comment for the report.