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Dhaka Tribune

Landline phones beaten out by mobile operators

Update : 28 Apr 2013, 03:24 AM

 

Disappointed with their services, Dhaka’s land phone users are shunning their connections and are relying more on mobile phone services.

At present, government-owned Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Ltd (BTCL) and the lone private operator, RanksTel, are losing subscribers. Other private operators are not filling the gap as they find the business a “challenge” due to strict rules and regulations.

RanksTel is now the only private PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) company to be in operation out of the 34 zonal and national licensees.

BTCL is currently focusing on the firms who share their networks for telecommunications services while RanksTel is finding it hard even to revive its old customers, let along make rapid expansion.

“There is no scope of doing business with the PSTN services, as the market has already been captured by the mobile operators. Moreover, our operation had been shut for the last two and a half years,” RanksTel Chief Technical Officer Abul K Shamsuddin said recently.

He said there was nothing left in the market to earn from.

“We also do not have enough monetary support to gear up the network again. We can hardly bring back our old subscribers,” he added.

On the other hand, BTCL Managing Director OSM Kalim Ullah said, “It is very challenging for any PSTN operator to add more subscribers since they are unable to serve the existing ones properly.”

He said, “Voice service is no longer our priority. Rather we are busy with providing firms with network-sharing and international gateway services. It is more profitable for us.”

Government statistics say a huge number of BTCL users – 67,000 during the period of June 2011 to December last year – surrendered their connections though capacity had increased by 100,000. Its active connections have come down from 990,494 to 922,859 due to poor service, subscribers complain.

However, BTCL has recently doubled its monthly line rent from Tk80 to Tk160. It has also reviewed the call rate and introduced peak and off-peak clusters.

In June 2011, total usage of BTCL network against capacity was 72.54%, but it came down to 62.65% in December last year. The usage and percentage of active connections have consistently been declining.

The BTCL data also shows that over half of its connections are Dhaka-based. Last December, its total connections were 922,859, of which 538,729 were in Dhaka.

“They simply deprive us of high-end services. So we prefer mobile phones, WiMAX and other devices for communication purposes,” said Nazimuddin Sinha, a BTCL user from Indira Road.

He said annoyance in getting connections and the culture of bribing BTCL linemen for services, and the delay in fixing technical glitches had made the subscribers show their back to the state-owned land phone operator.

BTCL officials say the company has spent more money in establishing new exchanges, not in maintaining those properly, thus failing to gradually improve its service.

Officials at RanksTel said they might be able to revive only 100,000 connections from their previous 400,000 subscribers, as they were out of business for more than two years – from March 2010 to July last year – for operating an illegal VoIP business.

At that time, operations of other PSTN operators like PeoplesTel, National Phone, Dhaka Phone and WorldTel were also shut over the same allegation and their licenses scrapped.

PeoplesTel, Dhaka Phone and WorldTel have regained their licenses but are unlikely to resume operations anytime soon.

Nayeem Mehtab Chowdhury, managing director of WorldTel, said, “There is no scope now to run telecom business in the country as getting subscribers is a big challenge when the BTRC regulations are also not favourable to the PSTN industry.”

Zonal PSTN operators like Telebarta, Jalalabad Telecom, Onetel Communications Ltd, Westec Ltd, Sheba Phone Ltd (ISL), SA Telecom and Bangla Phone Ltd are not in operation now. They started winding up businesses since early 2010.

The BTRC in May 2010 first published the number of subscribers of the zonal PSTN operators. It said Telebarta had 56,420 subscribers at that time, Jalalabad 10,900, Onetel 39,570, Westec 17,000, Sheba Phone 11,620, SA Telecom 18,030 and Bangla Phone had 2,240 subscribers.

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