The total demand for spectrum allocation among the country's top three mobile operators is 11.4 MHz, but the BTRC is set to auction off only 7.4 MHz
With the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) gearing up to hold its spectrum auction on March 8, the mobile operators are fretting that one of them might cannibalise the spectrum available.
The total demand for spectrum allocation among the country's top three mobile operators is 11.4 MHz, but the BTRC is set to auction off only 7.4 MHz.
If an operator takes the lion's share of spectrum, the lack of any spectrum allocation cap, which was present in the last auction in 2018, may jeopardise the notion of a level-playing field in the sector.
The country’s leading network operator Grameenphone currently has 19.6 MHz of spectrum in the 1,800 MHz band, which is the highest among the operators.
However, they have applied for more than 4.8 MHz spectrum, which may upset the remaining operators, given the BTRC's dwindling spectrum scarcity.
Robi, Banglalink and state-run Teletalk have already sent a letter to the telecom regulator requesting a cap during spectrum auction so that no operator was deprived of getting the necessary spectrum.
"Considering the limited spectrum availability in the 1,800 MHz band to be assigned amongst the interested mobile network operators, we request the commission to consider a capping of maximum 2X20 Mhz spectrum so that each mobile operator gets equal spectrum to ensure a level playing field," the letter read.
Dhaka Tribune has a copy of the letter.
They also requested direct spectrum allocation to the operators in the 1,800 MHz band instead of distributing through an auction.
If all the operators seek direct allocation, then that could have been arranged, Md Shahidul Alam, director-general of BTRC's spectrum division, told Dhaka Tribune.
“But Grameenphone specifically sought the 4.8 MHz spectrum. We do not have enough at this moment for equal distribution. We have to look at the other operator like Robi who wants 2.6 MHz.So we made some slots with different blocks from the two bands for capping,” he added.
According to the spectrum auction guidelines, 7.40 MHz spectrum from the 1,800 MHz band will be auctioned in five blocks and 15 MHz spectrum from the 2,100 MHz band will be auctioned in three blocks.
Five blocks are from 7.4 MHz for the 1,800 MHz band are 2.2MHz, 2.2MHz, 2.2MHz, 0.4MHz, 0.4MHz and three blocks of 5MHz each from the 2,100 MHz band.
The surging need for spectrum has risen in recent times to cover the network operators' customer bases, which are witnessing new subscribers, especially amid the pandemic.
The lack of spectrum is causing serious damage to their service delivery, especially in areas of call drops and other issues.
The BTRC had previously set February 23 as the last date for the telecom operators to send in their queries. By March 1, they must submit their applications for spectrum.
“We hope the regulator will consider spectrum pricing and allocation as tools to correct the imbalanced market competition that exists at the moment,” said Shahed Alam, the chief corporate and regulatory officer at Robi.
Currently, Robi has 9 MHz from the 900 MHz band, 17.4 MHz from the 1,800 MHz band and 10 MHz from the 2,100 MHz band.
In contrast, GP has 7.4 MHz from the 900 MHz band, 19.6 MHz from the 1,800 MHz band and 10 MHz from the 2,100 MHz band.
Banglalink has 5 MHz from the 900 MHz band, 15.6 MHz from the 1,800 MHz band and 10 MHZ from the 2,100 MHz band.
Teletalk has 5.2 MHz from 900 MHz band, 10 MHz band from 1,800 MHz band and 10 MHz from 2,100 MHz band.
The BTRC expects Tk 5,000-6,000 crore in revenue from the upcoming auction.
The auction guidelines set a floor bid price of $30 million per MHz of spectrum in the 1,800 MHz band and $27 million in the 2,100 MHz band.
Earlier in February 2018, the BTRC awarded spectrum for fourth-generation (4G) mobile services as part of the government's plan to expedite the launch of the technology.