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Dhaka Tribune

BTCL 5G vision: Huawei leads with cost-effective proposal amidst regulatory turbulence

  • Controversies surround BTCL's 5G Project
  • Huawei's proposed price is 30% lower than the approved project cost
Update : 16 Nov 2023, 01:30 PM

In a recent development, Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Limited (BTCL) has witnessed progress in its pursuit of building an advanced 5G infrastructure in the country.

Despite initial hurdles, the unveiling of the financial offer for the GD-1 package of the project, “Development of Optical Fiber Transmission Network”, revealed Huawei as the leading contender.

A comprehensive review of the financial offers indicated that Huawei is leading the race with an offer of approximately Tk326 crore.

This places Huawei significantly ahead of the other two contenders, ZTE and Nokia, whose bids were Tk415 crores and Tk579 crores, respectively.

Notably, Huawei's proposed price is 30% lower than the approved project cost of Tk463 crore.

However, the question has been raised as to when the project will see the light of day to ensure high-speed internet service.

Even though the financial proposal was opened on November 8 after passing through various complications, concerns remain as the ongoing.

Start of the project

The project was approved at a cost of Tk1,590 crore by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) in February 2022.

Tenders were invited on August 14, 2022 for supply of equipment for the project.

Infograph: AH Mamun

A pre-bidding meeting for tenders is held in September. Later, a three-member tender opening committee formed as per the government procurement policy opened the international tender on December 20 last year.

Three companies — ZTE Corporation, Huawei Technologies Limited and Nokia Solutions — submitted proposals for the tender.

Allegation of irregularities

The Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) recommended opening financial proposals for a project, pending approval.

However, a delay ensued when the project manager sought clarification on two bidders after the mandated two-week endorsement period.

Dissatisfaction arose, prompting the managing director, Asaduzzaman Chowdhury, to instruct further action in adherence to rules.

Despite the TEC's explanation, action was delayed, leading to a document sent on May 25 under Public Procurement Rules-2008. Allegedly, Asaduzzaman ordered "tender re-processing" without proper jurisdiction, violating procurement rules.

Rejecting the bid and canceling the tender, Asaduzzaman acted without proper authority or justification, leading to a formal complaint. After 55 days, he decided to invite re-tenders contrary to the stipulated 15 days.

During a board meeting on July 24, deviations from established rules were noted, prompting advice for rectification.

Huawei's complaint against the tender cancellation was addressed by the Central Procurement Technical Unit (CPTU) review panel, declaring the cancellation order null and void on October 17. The panel also declared that technical proposals of all the three bidders were responsive. And they ordered the BTCL authority to open financial bid as soon as possible and proceed further to complete the tender process.

The subsequent issuance of a notice to open financial proposals on October 26, a High Court writ prompted a 15-day stay on October 22. After that, on November 06, Supreme Court Chamber Judge issued an eight week stay order on the decision of High Court.

As a flow of all these, financial proposals were eventually opened on November 8.

Questions arose regarding the involvement of the Post and Telecommunication Minister, Mustafa Jabbar, and the managing director in the tender cancellation.

The minister cited concerns about procuring outdated equipment for the 5G network launch, advocating for reconsideration given the impending 6G technology.

As the matter entered court proceedings, Post and Telecommunication Secretary Abu Hena Morshed Zaman refrained from commenting.

What kind of equipment needed?

Bangladesh Submarine Cable Company PLC projects a bandwidth demand of 29.8 terabytes by 2030, addressed by a tender offering 126.2 terabytes per second.

The tender, surpassing Buet's feasibility study projections by four times, aligns with BTRC's estimate of nationwide demand, positioning BTCL to handle 30% of it.

This substantial capacity aims to contribute to a Smart Bangladesh by 2041.

A BTCL official said considering the project's Tk29 lakh feasibility study cost, restarting the tender process would incur additional expenses and a two-year delay in Smart Bangladesh goals.

Meanwhile, a statement published by Huawei said: “Equipment that will be supplied in this project will be of the most advanced models. So, supplying an old model device or wasting money is absolutely absurd.”

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