The reason for the short life of this newly allocated spectrum is the high population of the country
Despite paying possibly one of the highest prices in the world for each megahertz of airwave recently, mobile operators in Bangladesh may have to cough up more money for additional spectrum within just a year.
Robi, the second-largest mobile operator in Bangladesh, thinks the newly purchased spectrum can ensure better service only for 1-1.6 years.
“After a year, more spectrum will be needed at a lower price to improve mobile service quality,” said Shahed Alam, chief corporate and regulatory officer of Robi.
The reason for the short life of this newly allocated spectrum, according to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), is the high population of the country.
Although the amount of allocated spectrum is similar to that of most other countries, there is more pressure per megahertz due to the huge population of Bangladesh, said Brigadier General Md Shahidul Alam, director-general of BTRC's spectrum division.
“So, they [mobile operators] have to take more spectrum from another band,” he added.
From January to August last year, there were over 1,129 million call drops, according to the BTRC.
Of this, Robi had 481.7 million, Grameenphone had around 460 million, Banglalink had 146.5 million, and Teletalk had 41.1 million.
The BTRC recently told operators that no more than two out of every 100 calls could be allowed to drop.
Mobile operators have been adamant that a lack of sufficient spectrum is to be blamed for the call drops.
Following this, on March 8, the BTRC held an auction where it allocated 27.4MHz spectrum for the three top operators, raising their total spectrum holdings by 26.3 per cent.
“As the allocation of spectrum has increased, the quality of mobile services must also improve,” said the BTRC Spectrum Division chief.
Banglalink, the third-largest mobile operator in the country, is currently serving around 1.16 million customers with 1MHz of spectrum.
With the addition of the new spectrum, it can now serve around 890,000 customers per MHz.
“This means we will be allocating the highest spectrum per subscriber among the private operators, and this will enable us to provide better service quality and data experience to our customers,” said Taimur Rahman, chief corporate and regulatory affairs officer of Banglalink.
Robi feels the average speed of mobile internet that the BTRC tests have revealed is more than satisfactory.
“Technically speaking, 2-3Mbps speed is more than enough to watch an HD quality video or performing any task using the mobile internet,” said Robi official Alam.
However, for better quality, operators must have at least 80 to 100 MHz of spectrum holding on average, he added.
“Currently, we do not have that amount of spectrum allocated to us. Moreover, most of our sites or BTSs [Base Transceiver Stations] are not yet connected with optical fibre networks. Besides, a quality handset is a key pre-requisite for enjoying better quality data service,” he further said.
At present, Grameenphone is serving 2.16 million people with one MHz of spectrum, Robi is serving 1.4 million, Banglalink is serving 1.16 million, and Teletalk is serving 220,000 thousand customers.
After adding the new spectrum, for per megahertz, Grameenphone will serve 1.68 million, Robi will serve 1.16 million, and Banglalink will serve 890,000 customers. Teletalk did not get any new spectrum allocation from the recent auction.
Currently, Grameenphone has 47.4MHz, Robi has 44MHz, Banglalink has 40MHz, and Teletalk has 25.2MHz spectrum.
Mobile companies in Bangladesh are going to use their new spectrum from April 9.
But before that, there is a lot of work to be done, which is likely to disrupt mobile services for two days -- on April 1 and April 7.
Before using this spectrum, the operators have to check for interference.
Earlier, operators found a lot of interference for the 900MHz band spectrum. This interference hampers the quality of mobile service.
After checking for interference by April 7, all operators will confirm BTRC, and then they will use this spectrum.
In the first phase, mobile phone services may be disrupted from 11pm on April 1 to 7am on April 2.
In the second phase, mobile services may be disrupted from 11pm on April 7 to 7am on April 8.