Mobile operators face many obstacles they have no control over. This is the concluding part of yesterday’s op-ed
Mobile phone operators’ tax rate in Bangladesh is also one of the highest in the world. Considering the high taxation regime and the high price of spectrum, it is very clear that satisfying all the customers with quality service is extremely difficult for the smaller operators.
Again, with regards to spectrum, the lack of a road map for auctioning it only increases uncertainty in the business. If there is visibility about the time-line when the spectrum will be made available, then the investors can provision for necessary investment following negotiation on the price with the government. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have that practice in place.
However, we must acknowledge that the decision to allow tech-neutrality in use of spectrum was a visionary step taken by the government. We look forward to more such landmark decisions from the government to make the best use of the spectrum available to the country.
Now, let’s have a look at the state of the country’s fibre optic network. Fibre optic network for the telecom industry is like the veins of a human body that carries blood. Therefore, the lack of a robust fibre optic network has direct implication on the quality of service experienced by the subscribers. Given the significance of the fibre optic network, it natural to be thinking that the mobile operators must be investing heavily in it.
Unfortunately, the mobile operators are barred from investing in the fibre optic network. NTTN (Nationwide Telecommunication Transmission Network) policy formulated in 2008 abruptly lifted the rights from the operators in investing in laying fibre optic cables in the country.
Sadly, the fibre optic network business in Bangladesh is now in the hands of a few companies. As a result, on one side, mobile operators cannot lay their own fibre and on the other, they are not even provided core fibre. Due to lack of competition among the companies with NTTN license, the cost of accessing fibre optic network is unusually high in Bangladesh. This extra cost then naturally gets reflected in the cost of providing internet services.
If the fibre connection is disconnected for a moment in any part of the country, then it directly affects the services of mobile operators. Unfortunately, time and again, we have observed that whenever a fibre optic cable is cut, it is not fixed urgently. This results in customer dissatisfaction with quality of service; when we seek resolution of this problem, the NTTN operators claim that they are complying with the service level agreement; this is certainly not helping.
Another major problem is that the mobile operators have no control over the bandwidth of their fibre or at what speed the signals are passing through the bandwidth. This lack of control on our part makes it extremely difficult to ensure optimum quality of service in using the fibre optic network from the NTTN operators.
The miseries doesn’t end there. In many cases, it is seen that fibre is not available in the areas where it is needed for the operators, and even if we get it, there is a big delay in getting the connection. It is almost impossible for mobile phone operators to offer high quality services if the quality of fibre optics and its availability is not ensured at a reasonable price.
Unfortunately, mobile phone operators have no control over any of these issues. I would like to stress on the fact that there is no alternative to a strong uninterrupted fibre network to ensure high-speed internet service and HD (High Definition) quality voice call.
“Quality of Service” (QoS) guidelines control the quality of services of mobile phone operators, but there is no guideline for NTTN operators who are integral to addressing the QoS concerns from the subscribers. In recently revised policies, NTTN operators were not made to ensure any QoS parameters. If the service quality of a vital service-providing company remains undefined, then it is unfair to expect the mobile operators to ensure 100% quality of services.
We believe that an overall reform of mobile telecommunications sector has become necessary to make way for the full implementation of the Digital Bangladesh vision. The government has taken a lot of pragmatic initiatives to advance the sector. With cooperation from the government, we believe all the concerns on QoS can be addressed satisfactorily.
What we need is to reform the policies relating to the services of telecommunications sector, including spectrum and fibre optic network. As the fourth industrial revolution dawns on us, we must fix the problem of QoS once and for all; we will soon need to quickly focus on introducing advanced digital services since 5G is in the offing already.
Time for action is now.
Shahed Alam is Head of Corporate and Regulatory Affairs, Robi Axiata Limited.