In fiscal 2019-20, the state-run company's revenue was the lowest in five years and yet it took on 24 projects worth Tk 16,173.8 crore
The government is desperate to give fixed-line telephone operator Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Limited (BTCL) another lease of life.
It is sanctioning one project after project to give relevance to the once highly profitable state-run company, whose main service is on its way out and its revenue is plumbing new depths.
In fiscal 2008-09, when it was declared a company from a state organisation, its revenue was Tk 1,689.4 crore and net profit was Tk 106.2 crore. Eleven years later, it incurred a loss of Tk 324.7 crore, according to the BTCL’s audited financial report for fiscal 2019-20.
The company is at a disadvantage for its ageing assets: in fiscal 2019-20, its depreciation costs were Tk 441.6 crore, down 21.2 per cent year-on-year but still the biggest chunk of its expense of Tk 1,240.6 crore.
The depreciation costs were Tk 591.6 crore in fiscal 2017-18, Tk 485.8 crore in 2016-17 and Tk 514.51 crore in 2015-16.
Last fiscal year, it logged in revenue of Tk 716.4 crore, which is the lowest in five years, according to its audited annual report.
And yet, the company, which narrowed its losses by 11.8 per cent to Tk 324.7 crore in its 2019-20 financial year, took on board 24 projects worth Tk 16,173.8 crore.
“We undertook big plans to enhance the BTCL’s quality of service and to enhance network across the country,” said AKM Habibur Rahman, deputy managing director of the BTCL’s Planning and Development department, adding that one of the initiatives would take telecom services to remote areas of the country, where no such facilities are available yet.
One of the projects involves increasing the capacity of setting up more underground optical fibre for the 5G rollout. The project’s cost is Tk 1,265 crore and the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology is currently running its feasibility study.
Once the project is complete, BTCL can fulfil the mobile operators’ requirement of 5G connectivity along with enhancing their fixed network services.
Proper telecom infrastructure is the precondition of launching such highly advanced 5G technology, said Erik Aas, chief executive officer of Banglalink.
“For 5G readiness, we need optical fibre. If there is no fibre, there will be no 5G. So, all of our optical fibres will go through the underground for 5G readiness soon,” said Rafiqul Matin, managing director of BTCL.
To establish and expand broadband connectivity, Wi-Fi and telecommunication facilities for marginalised people in the remote areas and the wetlands, another project worth Tk 459.85 crore has been undertaken.
The project survey has ended and now the network design work is in the progress.
BUET conducted the feasibility study for the project and has already submitted a draft study report. The project is expected to be approved by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) within three months, said BTCL officials.
The project for establishing optical fibre cable networks in all the government colleges, universities, and training institutes for Tk 44.98 crore was completed in June 2020.
Five other projects worth Tk 4,941.57 crore are currently in progress; two of them will end by 2021, and three of them by 2023.
Improving and expanding BTCL’s internet protocol (IP) network was approved on February 16 this year with a budget of Tk 949.50 crore.
The ongoing project “Modernisation of Telecommunication Network (MoTN) for Digital Connectivity” is a big-budget project of BTCL, worth Tk 3,314.9 crore. The budget allocation for this project was Tk 2,573.4 crore at the beginning of last year, but Tk 741.6 crore was added to its allocation a month ago.
This project has been undertaken to increase digital connectivity across the country and will likely end by 2023.
Another project worth Tk 600 crore for providing high-speed internet and telecom services to the economic zones under the Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority (BEZA) is awaiting approval from the ECNEC.
A few other projects include starting an app-based BTCL Dialler Service, expansion of GPON service and triple-play service in all the upazila and district levels, modernisation of telecom training centre of BTCL, setting up a telecommunication network in Uttara under RAJUK, transforming Gazipur Telecommunication Staff College into a Telecommunication University, and the establishment of telecommunication and IT infrastructure to build a smart city in Purbachal.
Projects worth Tk 2,728.70 crore for the construction of multi-storey residential buildings in Mohakhali, Motijheel, Banani and BTCL’s CTS and workshop compound have also been proposed to the government.
Once the projects are complete, the BTCL’s target to increase speed and bandwidth and decrease latency (delay) will be achieved, said BTRC officials.