At the end of last year, there were 17.01 crore active mobile subscribers, whereas Bangladesh's population stands at 16.55 crore
2020 was most definitely a signpost year for Bangladesh’s telecom industry, and one of the reasons is that the carriers were finally able to reach out to almost the entire population of Bangladesh.
At the end of last year, there were 17.01 crore active mobile subscribers, according to data from the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC).
And as of Monday, Bangladesh's population stands at 16.55 crore, as per the Worldometer elaboration of the latest United Nations data.
The mobile operators added about 45 lakh new subscribers during the course of the year, which is the lowest since 2012 at least. In 2016, no new customers were added; rather 56 lakhs were struck off for the enforcement of biometric SIM registration, which rationalised the subscriber base.
This suggests that for mobile operators, they have reached a point of saturation in terms of subscribers. They now have to focus on services to boost their revenue rather than by getting more subscribers on board.
TIM Nurul Kabir, a former secretary general of the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh, downplayed the oddity.
“It is a common sight to see people using multiple SIM cards for various uses.”
Besides, SIM cards are needed to run the pocket routers.
“It is a very positive sign that people in rural areas are also accessing digital services through smartphones,” he added.
About 88 lakh new mobile internet subscribers came on board in 2020, up 8.6 per cent from the previous year.
At the end of 2020, there were 10.23 crore mobile internet users, which is the highest yet, helped in part by the pandemic that turbocharged digitalisation.
While the technology played its part in keeping Bangladesh moving amid the pandemic, the mobile companies had a vital role to play in facilitating the transition of everyday activities online.
Starting from work to commerce, everything was done over the phone amid the two-and-a-half-month-long countrywide shutdown announced on March 26 to slow the spread of coronavirus.
For those who had no fixed internet connection, mobile internet was a Godsend for them.
“The telecom service was placed among the emergency services,” said Khairul Basher, head of communications at Grameenphone, adding that the work/study from home practice drastically increased the demand for data services.
Subsequently, all three mobile operators saw profit or revenue growth from a year earlier.
As per the latest data, which is of September, market leader Grameenphone logged in profit of Tk 2,690 crore, up 6.3 per cent year-on-year. Its closest competitor Robi posted a profit of Tk 116.1 crore, up 1.9 per cent year-on-year.
Banglalink’s parent company, the Amsterdam-based VEON, does not disclose the profit figures in its financial report; only the revenue earned is shared. The country's number carrier logged in revenue of Tk 3,421 crore between January and September, in contrast to Tk 3,419 crore a year earlier.
The mobile operators have had a seminal role to play: not only did they raise awareness about prevention of COVID-19 they also teamed up with the government to draw a digital map to track coronavirus cases and find out areas susceptible to contamination.
“The industry as a whole has been instrumental in tackling the ongoing crisis through various digital services.”
Additionally, the industry as a whole has taken a leap forward in ensuring nationwide network coverage by partnering with tower management companies.
“We have deployed all our resources to prevail over this predicament,” Basher added.
While there was a huge upsurge in data usage during the pandemic, that did not translate into higher revenue for Robi, the country’s number two player, said Shahed Alam, its chief corporate and regulatory officer.
“We had to reduce the price of data considering the economic hardship endured by a large segment of our customers during the pandemic,” Alam added.
“We are looking forward to bringing more innovative digital services leveraging the insights we got this year, and want to operate under a favourable and predictable regulatory regime that supports our endeavours and benefits our customers,” said Erik Aas, chief executive officer of Banglalink.