Last month, VEON CEO showed interest in investing $1 billion in Bangladesh. Tell us a little about it.
VEON [Netherlands-based company which holds majority share in Global Telecom Holding – the company that owns Banglalink] is committed to invest over $1 billion in Bangladesh over the next three years, and more than half of that money is exclusively for network upgrade. The work for network upgrade is already in progress: around 90% of the tower sites have already been converted to support 3G technology. The rest will be completed by the end of this year. This ultimately leads to more innovative digital services, better customer experience and a digital life in true sense.
What do you think of the present state of the telecommunication sector in Bangladesh?
Bangladesh is undoubtedly one of the fastest growing markets for telecom business. A survey of Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has revealed that the numbers of mobile and internet users have increased by 9.6 million and 5.9 million, respectively, in the last six months. The smartphone penetration is close to 30% and have been increasing at a commendable rate. This shows the dynamic nature of the market. We also welcome the upcoming auction of 4G and are interested in participating in it. We would also like to ensure that our Bangladeshi customers always get updated with the latest technology.
Do you think 4G services will attract new customers? What is your expectation in that regard?
With smartphone penetration at 30% and the rapid growth in the IoT [Internet of Things] adoption and usage, there is a dire need for fast internet, and the most prominent aspect of 4G technology is faster speed. Nowadays, almost everyone has a device in the palm of their hands. In these circumstances, 4G has the space to come into play to satisfy the need for reliable and fast internet for an engaging digital life. And we’re committed to provide the best 4G services.
What are the new aspects of mobile services that consumers can experience through 4G technology?
As I said before, the most prominent aspect of 4G is faster speed. Banglalink believes that the future is digital, and it is always catering to its customers with superior services as they step into the digital world. The ever-evolving telecom world has always been influenced by the progressive and competitive technologies. Technology has transformed our lifestyle and ultimately has made everything much easier and faster. It has turned the world into a global village where physical presence is not required any more. More and more Bangladeshis connect to the internet with their smartphones, which opens up boundless possibilities. Today, people spend a lot of time online via their mobile phones, sharing their lives on Facebook, or searching for information. In the digital world of tomorrow, they will use their smartphone to do their online shopping, read the news, stream music, learn about new topics, watch films, electronically transfer money and manage their mobile accounts. As our mobile markets are shifting from voice to data, we believe many lifestyle services also have to move on to a digital dimension as well. Banglalink aims to enable its customers to get the best out of the digital future and creating a true digital ecosystem in providing products that suits the customers’ demands.
How do you plan to draw in potential customers?
Society is getting more and more digitalised every day, and people are gradually adapting to this form of life. There is an organic shift towards a more enabling digital life where healthcare, education and financial inclusion will be brought into everyone’s hands. This organic need will bring customers to the doors of 4G.
Is the existing spectrum enough for the provision of 4G services in Bangladesh?
I cannot speak for other operators, but in Banglalink we need more spectrum to offer the best services. Allocation of spectrum is a critical issue for Banglalink, because at present it has the least amount of spectrum in the market. To serve a significant number of Bangladeshi mobile phone users with minimal amount of spectrum is a big challenge, which also has a negative impact on the entire telecommunication sector. Banglalink looks forward to working with the regulator on securing the additional spectrum at the earliest opportunity, thus it will be able to continue to meet its quality of service obligations and offer better services to consumers throughout the country. I also believe that to offer LTE/4G services, operators need to be convinced on the business case which is fairly depending on getting the spectrum neutrality across all bands from the regulator.
What is the potential deadline for Banglalink to launch 4G services in Bangladesh?
We have already stated that our operations to set up 4G are underway. As soon as Banglalink gets the licence and all legal issues are sorted, it will be ready to launch 4G.
The BTRC recently announced that it would award three tower company licences. What are your thoughts on that?
We welcome the BTRC’s decision. Banglalink believes in offloading its tower assets as those are not the core business of operators any longer, and concentrating on providing best digital services to its consumers. Banglalink also believes that if its towers could be bought and serviced by experienced tower companies, it could use those proceedings to invest in buying spectrum, upgrading network and providing world-class digital services.