The four-year profit reign of Robi Axiata, one of the leading mobile operators in Bangladesh, ended last year after its merger with Airtel Bangladesh Limited.
The telecom operator has been suffering losses since January 2016 and is yet to fully recover.
High officials at Robi blamed the slow merger process as they expected the formalities to be completed within three to four months, but it took around 18 months.
The mobile operator incurred a massive loss of Tk440 crore in 2016 as it had to pay Tk507 crore to the government exchequer as merger and spectrum fees, according to Robi’s Vice-President (technical regulations, regulatory affairs) Anamika Bhakta.
Moreover, the biometric SIM registration process also contributed to the profit decline as a large number of SIMs were deactivated.
The sufferings were not just limited to the company as subscribers were also left unhappy with the merger complications. Since the merger came into effect, subscribers of these two mobile phone operators around the country have been facing problems during voice calls.
Shafiqur Rahman, a Robi subscriber who lives in Shantinagar, Dhaka, complained about call fading.
“When I call other people using my Robi number, often I cannot hear the other end for 15-20 seconds during the conversation,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
Airtel subscribers have also complained about poor network coverage and difficulty in connecting with other mobile phone numbers.
“I have to try making a call at least two or three times before my call connects with someone. On top of that, when we are talking, the call fades out for almost half a minute,” said Zakirul Islam, a businessman in Sylhet. “This is creating problems for my business.”
However, the Robi vice-president (communications and corporate responsibility), Ekram Kabir, then said technical difficulties were to blame for the disruption to services in Dhaka.
“The network integration is still in progress in Dhaka, so subscribers are facing a little bit of a problem. The network will be back to normal after the integration is done. Outside Dhaka, there is no problem,” he had told the Dhaka Tribune.
The Robi-Airtel merger started to take shape when the two companies signed a precursor to the deal on January 29, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The merger received the go-ahead from the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission on October 16, after the High Court gave its approval on August 31.
In September 2015, the two operators had applied to the BTRC to merge their companies into a single entity.
Talking about the loss, Robi Vice President Anamika Bhakta told the Dhaka Tribune that as the merger took more time than anticipated, many procedures and formalities within the two companies remained stuck in uncertainty.
“If we could have started our journey as a single entity within four months from the merger, then everything could have been completed according to our plan. As the implementation of internal planning was not executed on time, it hampered revenue earning too,” she added.
A Robi official said they will regain their position shortly as it is nearing completion of network integration which would ensure quality network.
When the merger came into effect in November 2016, Robi’s subscriber base was over 25 million while Airtel’s was 7.72 million, according to BTRC data.
In February 2017, Robi had 27.01 million subscribers while Airtel had 8.21 million subscribers.
Robi Axiata Ltd’s parent company, Axiata Group of Malaysia, holds a 68.7% controlling stake in the combined entity while India-based Bharti Airtel, the parent company of Airtel Bangladesh Ltd, holds 25%.
The remaining 6.3% belongs to NTT DOCOMO of Japan, another shareholder of Robi.