As per telecom industry insiders and mobile internet users, the service of 4G is available mostly in the divisional headquarters and the quality is very poor
The government is going to hold an auction for 5G spectrum this year when the country's majority of mobile phone users still stick to 3G technology for mobile internet and about one-third of them barely manage their 4G subscription.
On January 2, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission announced that the auction for the 5G spectrum would be held in the third quarter of the current year.
The announcement came when the mobile phone operators are struggling to maintain quality of their existing services amid lack of required infrastructure caused by restrictions imposed by the regulator on further expansion of network.
As per telecom industry insiders and mobile internet users, the service of 4G is available mostly in the divisional headquarters and the quality is very poor.
Moreover, the huge decline in active mobile internet users by around four lakh in November last year also triggered worries about the mobile industry's growth in the data sector.
By the latest BTRC data, although the mobile internet user in the country increased by 77 lakh last year, the bandwidth consumption increased only 28 GBps in the same period.
Post and Telecommunication Minister Mustafa Jabbar in March last year said the 5G internet would be launched in the country by 2021.
Majority subscribers still in 3G internet
As of November last year, the number of total mobile internet users in the country was 9.33 crore, according to the latest BTRC data.
The government launched 3G technology in 2013 and in seven years only 5.98 crore subscribers were using 3G technology until last year and launched in 2018, only 2.77 crore subscribers were using 4G internet by the time.
The 2G mobile internet user in the country is 58 lakh.
Quality of 4G internet
Last year, the telecom regulator conducted test drive in Dhaka and Barisal divisions to assess the quality of 4G service by mobile operators as per BTRC benchmark of 7 MBps download speed.
All four mobile phone operators were found providing 4G internet service below the BTRC benchmark.
In Dhaka, as per BTRC finding, GP and Robi maintained the benchmark while Banglalink was providing service at 6.49 MBps and Teletalk at 4.85 MBps.
In Barisal, all the four operators failed to maintain the 4G internet speed as per the BTRC benchmark.
The telecom regulator in a press briefing on January 2 acknowledged call drops and low speed of the internet in recent times as the operators failed to maintain quality of their services.
The four mobile phone service providers managed to bag 77 lakh internet users in January-November last year but only two new network towers were built in the same period.
The government in November 2018 awarded four companies licence for building and managing mobile network towers, separating the tower business from the mobile operators.
The stand-off between the mobile phone operators and the tower companies on pricing of tower sharing has put construction of around 3,000 new network towers across the country on hold.
Moreover, since July last year, GP and Robi, having 12.48 crore subscribers of the total 16.48 crore mobile phone users, were not allowed to import and install new mobile phone tower equipment.
Asked about the issue, Mustafa Jabbar told Dhaka Tribune that 5G technology should not measured in terms of number of mobile internet users, or facebook users.
"5G is a tool for the fourth industrial revolution of the world. It will be used by machines in factories and by businesses. So, whether or not majority people are still using 3G internet is not relevant when it comes to 5G internet," he said.
Mobile operators in the country are skeptical about the investment scenario for 5G because of the turmoil in the industry.
They also consider the ongoing tension over the telecom regulator's Tk13,445 crore audit claim to the country's two largest mobile phone operators, Grameenphone and Robi.
Seeking anonymity, a senior official of Banglalink told Dhaka Tribune that in the present situation there is no commercial prospect for 5G technology.
"If you look at the data, we are still stuck in the 3G technology. The mobile phone companies are still working to improve the 4G coverage and service quality. In such a situation, 5G spectrum auction in the end of the year looks like too much expectation," he said.
The Association of Mobile Telecom Operators Bangladesh Secretary General SM Farhad told Dhaka Tribune that mobile phone operators had their own business strategy and planning for 5G investment and roll-out.
"Business environment, return of investment, availability of 5G-enabled devices, spectrum price, 5G guideline and market demand are also very important while considering 5G investment," he said.
The three private mobile phone operators invested Tk5,268.51 crore in 4G spectrum and Tk4,450.83 crore in 3G spectrum.
Currently, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan have run successful trail tests of 5G technology among the South-Asian countries.
Bharti Airtel and Chinese telecom company Huawei have conducted India's first 5G network trial under a test setup at the network experience centre in Manesar, Gurugram. However, the Indian government is looking to ban Huawei from future 5G spectrum auctions on security grounds.
Pakistani telecom company Zong and Jaaz Pakistan along with Huawei conducted the test trial last year.
2018, Robi and Huawei conducted a successful test run of the 5G technology in the country.
The Huawei Bangladesh in response to a Dhaka Tribune query yesterday said: "5G is not only about internet, but also about industry ecosystem. Nevertheless to say, in Bangladesh we still need to work for 3G and 4G expansion to facilitate more people but 5G is something we must have to ensure our competitiveness with the rest of the world. In 5G era Machine to machine (M2M) communication will be stronger. It will help us to increase efficiency.”