• Wednesday, Oct 27, 2021
  • Last Update : 05:51 am

Telecom operators struggle to serve rapid surge of new customers

  • Published at 10:05 pm December 17th, 2020
Mobile towers
File photo: Two telecommunication towers located in outskirts of Dhaka Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

This caused the data quality, voice call and other services to deteriorate significantly

The country's telecom operators are in troubled waters to serve an increased amount of customers, which surged thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This caused the data quality, voice call and other services to deteriorate significantly.

"Almost all the operators saw a 20-35 per cent boom in their customer base, as well as huge increase in data uses amid the Covid-19 outbreak. For this, we needed to scale up our infrastructure and logistic supports by four to five times," said Yasir Azman, chief executive officer of Grameenphone, the leading network operator currently.

The Grameenphone CEO made the remarks during a programme to unveil a report titled "Keeping Bangladesh Connected: The Role of the Mobile Industry during the Covid-19 Pandemic", a report by the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA) on Thursday.

But no one was ready for such a situation. It was a new experience for all, he also said.

The main challenge was ensuring network for the huge number of people who shifted from cities to remote areas in the pandemic. Besides, lowering service prices to an affordable level was also a prime concern, the CEO said.

Azman, however, said that getting no new towers for a long time and higher taxes were key barriers to meeting the new demand.

"We saw an unexpected tax increase amid the pandemic. Now we have to pay more than 50 per cent effective tax. It is the main cause why we cannot elevate our telecom services," said Mahtab Uddin Ahmed, managing director and chief executive officer of Robi Axiata.

On the other hand, the country witnessed a growing number of people under the poverty line, as Covid-19 affected families, reduced jobs, and forced migration from cities to rural areas in the last few months. Affordable internet and telecom services became an emergency for their survival, he also said.

Work from home, online class, e-commerce business, telemedicine and other emergency services online intensified the necessity, he mentioned.

As a small player in comparison with others, state-owned Teletalk also faced the same problems, said Shahab Uddin, its managing director.

He also said that the cooperation of authorities concerned and other stakeholders could address the issues.

The government should lower tax rates at least for pandemic time and it was imperative, he also said.   

Besides, the operators urged the government to help fix all critical issues in the sector on a priority basis as the industry is related to the country's digitalisation and overall development.

The  Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh (AMTOB) in association with the Postal and Telecommunications Department (PTD) organised the event.

Mustafa Jubbar, minister for posts and telecommunications and information technology, Shyam Sunder Sikder, chairman of the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), and Afzal Hossain, secretary-general of PTDA  among others were present in the event.

"The tax policy for telecom sector is not friendly at all," Mustafa Jabbar said, agreed with the operators and recognising their hurdles in the pandemic.

There were several other issues to be addressed, he added.

But the government is tough to convince and coordinate for a particular purpose, the minister said, adding that he was trying his best to fix all the challenges telecom industry faced.

"We brought a good solution for tower problems and started issuing the tower-sharing licences. Hopefully, the operators will no longer suffer from such problem," he said.

Getting internet and mobile services at an affordable price is now a fundamental right of people, the minister also said.

"We have a target to reach 100 per cent of the population for using telecom services by 2021."

He urged the operators to implement 4G network across the country with the shortest time.

BTRC chairman Sikder said that it took initiatives to follow some international guidelines, assign more spectrum, help operators expedite their infrastructure.

"We will allow operators sharing tower for rapid development," he said, adding that tower sharing was now a demand of the time.

The GSMA report put three recommendations ­­-- promoting network resilience, ensuring access and affordability of digital services, leverage e-health, big data and telemedicine --   to utilize the operators for fighting Covid-19 pandemic, as well as developing telecom sector.

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