Despite the government vision of a “Digital Bangladesh” and the rise of internet-based businesses having opened up new avenues for the ICT sector, the emerging business of mobile app development is still facing a number of hurdles to tapping the huge opportunities on offer in global and domestic markets.
Some of the challenges in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector being faced by mobile app development companies include a lack of technical and policy support as well as shortages of investment and skilled workforce.
“There are huge opportunities for expansion in the mobile app market as the government and private agencies have opted to digitise services through apps, but these apps are yet to be developed,” Imran Sadik Chowdhury, project manager of Sheba Technologies Ltd, told the Dhaka Tribune.
Some of the areas for expansion opened up to app developers due to digitisation are government offices, newspapers, online news portals, e-commerce entrepreneurs, banks, insurance, and mobile phone operators as well as other service providers.
Sheba Technologies Ltd has received very encouraging response to the biometric verification system/app developed by them for SIM registration of Telecom subscribers, Imran added.
“If the entrepreneurs can meet the demand with a supply of quality apps, it would lead Bangladesh’s IT industry to a new height,” he said.
Regarding the issues that were impeding mobile app developers from fulfilling this potential, Preneur Lab Chief Executive Officer Arif Nizami said: “As app developers have to use the internet for hours on end, they have to pay high prices for bandwidth. Furthermore, slow internet speeds also make life for developers difficult.”
Preneur Lab won the United Nation’s World Summit Award (WSA) in 2016 for developing the Dhaka Public Toilet app, which aids users in finding public toilets within the city.
Another app developer, Youth Opportunities, has won the best National Mobile Application Award for its contribution to education and empowerment of young people.
Nizami added that a lack of testing labs for mobile apps was also hampering mobile app developers, while quality education for the ICT sector was required to produce an “innovative and talented” workforce.
Furthermore, SM Ashraf Abir, chief executive officer of Multimedia Content and Communications (MCC) Ltd, said that Bangladesh’s lack of registration with Google created further barriers.
MCC Ltd is one of the leading app developers in Bangladesh, having created numerous free apps for social and educational purposes including Bangladesh Police Station, Let’s Eat - Find Restaurants, Roopkotha, and Bangla Dictionary.
“Most Bangladeshi app developers create apps for Android and iOS phones. In developing these apps, the developers often have to buy components from outside the country, which they have to pay for through a merchant account with Google,” Abir told the Dhaka Tribune.
However, these merchant accounts cannot be opened without country registration with Google, he added.
However, State Minister for ICT Zunaid Ahmed Palak recently assured that the ICT business people will be able to open merchant account with Google Inc as he got assurance from the world’s leading technology firm at a meeting in the US.
Regarding possible solutions to some of these issues, Venture Capital and Private Equity Association of Bangladesh Chairman Shameem Ahsan told the Dhaka Tribune: “The University Grants Commission, in cooperation with universities, has to design a new curriculum based on the ICT industry’s needs to train a skilled workforce.”
The chairman added that the syllabus needs to be constantly updated in order to keep up with new innovations as the ICT industry grows at an extremely rapid rate.
Shameem also said venture capital would be a great way to address investment shortages, with some impact on the ICT sector already visible.
On April 9, Zunaid Ahmed Palak at a programme said: “We will train 10,000 people to develop mobile apps by 2018. Six to seven venture capital companies are currently working on mobile app development. We will formulate a policy in this regard soon.”
He added that the government has already created a road map for ICT development.
“We are now raising funds and meeting with banks every day. Some policies of Bangladesh Bank are changing and improving for betterment of the IT industry as well as the mobile app development sector,” the state minister said.
According to sources in the ICT sector, app development can play a key role in achieving the Bangladesh government’s target of earning $5 billion through the export of ICT products by 2021, but strong policy support and financing was necessary.
In the upcoming budget, stakeholders demanded VAT-free internet services, cash incentives against export, block allocations for app developers under the Digital Bangladesh scheme and cuts in corporate tax.
According to a comScore report, the global market size for mobile apps stood at $58 billion in 2016, and is projected to reach $77 billion this year. The report also said that there were more than 2.2 million mobile apps available on Google Playstore.
According to data from the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS), Bangladesh earned $700 million from the ICT sector last year, $105 million of which came from mobile apps.