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Selling air

  • Published at 08:00 pm June 2nd, 2017
  • Last updated at 08:35 pm June 2nd, 2017
Selling air

Many people say that the mobile telecom operators of the country are siphoning money abroad by selling mere “air.” Making this statement may seem very simple, but it’s equally difficult to understand how this air is created and served to customers.

For a common user of this “air,” it’s very natural to think in this way. When we purchase a bottle of mineral water or a bottle of tomato ketchup, we never say this water is available in our ponds and rivers for free. Why would we have to buy it from the shops in a bottle? Similarly, we never think tomato ketchup can be easily processed at home by adding some spices on the stove.

The reason for this, I think, is that the use of this bottled water and ketchup has become so much a part of our lifestyle that its absence would certainly bug us. Then again, we can hold and feel a bottle of water or ketchup. After purchasing from a store, we establish a physical connection with the bottle, and that’s when we feel a certain type of ownership for it.

On the other hand, we cannot touch the air that the mobile companies sell, and that is why we may not feel we become owners of this air. Rather, we feel close to the mobile handset through which the air comes to us. That’s why we feel we own the device and not the air.

The reason I’m saying all this is because users of this “air” never think about what they are using -- mobile operators could never make their customers understand the entire process of their business. We don’t understand their product the way we understand other businesses, such as banking, food, cement, furniture etc.

We tend to forget about the “air” once we finish a session of it; we never know how these companies invest billions of dollars, build infrastructure, set up towers across the country with people toiling 24 hours, and at the end, how they facilitate the “air” to be used by the customers through handsets. They also pay Tk47 to the government as taxes from each Tk100 taka that the customers spend.

Money matters

The question of sending money abroad needs to be cleared up. Which multi-national company doesn’t send its share of profit to its country of origin? Banks, insurance companies, toothpaste, baby-food -- everybody comes here to invest and make some profits. When they make profit, they’d surely send it to their share-holders; it’s very simple.

Now, the question is: Are the mobile telecom companies of Bangladesh making that profit? No one is profiting except one company. Therefore, how would they send the money abroad? I’d request everybody to think about it.

However, today’s piece isn’t meant for advocating mobile telecom companies. Rather, I’d like to provide some idea on how the business of these companies with their products may transform into in the future.

The price of this ‘air’ at the consumer level is the cheapest in Bangladesh among all countries of this region

They have come a long way in the last 20 years. The government has also done a commendable job by opening up the doors of this sector in 1996, otherwise these companies wouldn’t be able to come this far and impact our lives.

Yes, in the beginning, talking on mobile phones wasn’t within everyone’s reach. However, with the combined efforts of the government and these companies, each and every citizen can now use them. Now the price of this “air” at the consumer level is the cheapest in Bangladesh among all countries of this region. On the other hand, the air that the companies buy from the government is extremely costly, which, in other countries, is way cheaper.

What we use air for

Are we using the air to talk to each other and browse the internet? Not really -- we’re using this technology in law enforcement, banking, paying all utility bills, learning our classroom lessons, and performing many other daily chores.

There was a time when we used it only for talking to each other. Then came the internet, and we started using it for reading books and newspapers and doing business in the share market. The internet is also aiding us to study, watch television and movies, acquire plane tickets.

The use of this internet is to increase more, and will become an indispensable part of our lives. That time is coming soon. In fact, the time is already here. This technology is now being used across the globe, and people’s lives and lifestyles are changing fast.

We’re already doing the task of shopping and communicating with each other. But the time that I’m talking about is about Internet of Things. Now, what’s Internet of Things? Things are what we use every day: Our ceiling fans, lights, televisions, refrigerators, cars and their wheels, rickshaws, our teacup, pudding bowl etc. Everything that we use in our daily life.

Imagine that you’re controlling everything in your house by sitting in your office a few miles away. You’re switching on and off your air conditioner, counting eggs in your refrigerator, checking whether your door is locked properly, whether the floor of your bedroom needs cleaning.

You come home; take a shower. You spouse has gone to another city or a country for work. You open your mobile phone and talk to him or her as if he or she is sitting right before you; you can even give your spouse a good night kiss.

Did you miss the speech of the prime minister? Don’t worry at all. The speech has been recorded, and you can listen to it whenever you want to. Not only speeches; everything will be stored for you in this air.

Did you forget to close the door of your home when you started for office in the morning? Can you do something about it from the office? Of course, it’s possible; you can close the door sitting right in your chair in the office. Similarly, everything that you’d need for your work and life would be there at your fingertips. You need not get out of your home at all; the only time you would need to come out of your home is when you go to the park for exercise.

A glimpse of the future

Imagine you’re returning home after work and you’re driving. Your car suddenly starts to talk to you about a possible malfunction in its engine. You direct your car to stop and remain parked by the side of the road. The car listens to your direction. You call a taxi and return home.

In the meantime, the people of the car company have already started for the place to fix your car. They were sitting in their office, but they knew about the malfunction without you informing them!

I hope I could provide a glimpse of the near future. The companies that are going to be the catalytic agents in this lifestyle are the present-day mobile telecom operators. They’d facilitate everything to become connected. Everything would be connected -- cities, villages, rivers, oceans -- everything.

This is the future we’re heading to -- a completely connected world. And these companies would be implementing the connections with their technology. This would require the internet. And for acquiring the internet, we’d need that “air.”

The real name of that “air” is spectrum.

Ekram Kabir is a fiction writer.