Summit: a major player in ICT infrastructure
When one talks about Summit Group, it should come as no surprise that the conglomerate has solidified its position in Bangladesh's power industry while its chairman, Muhammed Aziz Khan, has been listed by Forbes as one of the richest men in Singapore.
But interestingly in the last 13 years, step by step, the Summit has become a major player in the country's telecommunication and internet service industry.
Now, Summit Communications, which was founded by Khan, is the leading internet transmission service provider laying the largest fibre optic cable network, a feat it accomplished through a Nationwide Telecommunication Transmission Network (NTTN) licence.
It is also the leading international internet gateway (IIG) operator and international terrestrial cable (ITC) operator offering a bandwidth of about 1,400 Gbps, which is over 30 per cent of the country's total demand.
Its clientele are all the telecom operators, top internet service providers, cable TV operators and the government. All heavily rely on the primary infrastructure of the Summit.
It also availed a number of licences from Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC).
One is an interconnection exchange (ICX) licence from which enables it to connect calls among different mobile network operators.
Another is a national internet exchange (NIX) licence, which enables it to keep data traffic within the country.
Summit Towers, a subsidiary of Summit Communications, is the second largest tower infrastructure provider.
The government has recently awarded the Summit and two other companiessubmarine cable licences, which enables bringing bandwidth to the country through undersea cable systems.
This in effect broke the monopoly of state-run Bangladesh Submarine Cable Company in the submarine cable business.
These are likely to give the Summit a competitive edge, since it has all the permissions to bring data through undersea cables, get it passed through gateways and finally reach it to the end user through its fibre optic network, said industry stakeholders.
"We want to be the best primary end-to-end ICT infrastructure service provider," Arif Al Islam, CEO of Summit Communications, told The Daily Star.
"With the tower, fibre and internet services, submarine cable, IIG and ITC, we want to be the biggest and the best," he added.
The Summit embarked on its journey in the telecommunication sector in 2009 when the BTRC introduced the NTTN service to break "monopoly" of the mobile network operators (MNO) in telecommunication business.
[email protected] was the first to obtain the licence and the Summit was the second.
Mobile network operators and some telecom experts have long blamed the introduction of the NTTN licence-- which made the mobile network operators dependent on a third party for fibre optic cable network -- for data services not being up to the mark.
With the mobile network operators unable to lay their own fibre network, less than 25 per cent of telecom towers are connected with the high-speed data transmission systems, causing customers to face slow internet speeds.
Defending the necessity of the NTTN providers, Islam said before the introduction of the NTTN licence, the price of one Mbps bandwidth was Tk 8,000 to Tk 10,000, which has now dropped to around Tk 50.
He said the Summit expanded its NTTN to upazila levels across the country laying over 47,000 kilometres of optical fibre and was able to provide service all over the country.
All mobile network operators -- GP, Robi, Banglalink and Teletalk -- and around 75 of the top internet service providers avail its IIG service, the licence for which was availed in 2012. The service encompasses a third of the market.
It also obtained the ITC licence that year and has now become the largest ITC provider in Bangladesh, bringing in 750 Gbps bandwidth from its Indian partners -- Tata Communications and Bharti Airtel.
In 2018, the company was awarded the tower-sharing licence by the BTRC to build and operate tower infrastructures.
With its existing nationwide presence through fiber optic network and other services, the tower infrastructure licencemade it the only private organisation offering an end-to-end telecommunication infrastructure service provider in the sector.
In this segment, the Summit was lagging behind the tower brand of Malaysian telecommunications group Axiata Group, edotco, which holds the majority of the tower infrastructure. The Summit holds the second spot with 1,376 towers.
But the telecom watchdog has recently designated edotco as a significant market power (SMP), barring it from rolling out more than 25 per cent of new tower demand.
This will give a boost to the Summit and the two other tower companies in increasing their market share.
Summit Communications has recently received the licence, along with Cdnet Communications and Metacore Subcom, to establish, maintain and operate submarine cables, giving it further control in domestic and global data traffic.
On another note, Summit Group operates a last mile internet service providing company called Cosmopolitan Communications.
When a company obtains all types of licences in a sector, it creates a monopoly in the market. And that company wants to dominateall segments of business in that sector, said Md Emdadul Hoque, president of the Internet Service Providers Association of Bangladesh.
So, the regulator should intervene to ensure a competitive environment, he added.
Apart from the edotco, the BTRC earlier designated Grameenphone, the top mobile network operator with over 45 per cent market share, as a SMP and imposed some restrictions.
Interestingly, the inception of Summit Communications is linked to it obtaining the NTTN licence.
Telecom Minister Mustafa Jabbar says the NTTN licence was introduced to break the monopoly of the mobile network operators in the telecom business.
Asked if the Summit is now exercising monopoly in the telecommunication business with so many licences, Jabbar said if the Summit has the qualifications of doing business in many segments, they cando those businesses.
AK Enamul Haque, dean of the Faculty of Business and Economics at East West University, said for any Bangladeshi company to become a big player was not a bad thing.
However, growth should be fair and there should be fair competition in the market, he said.
"If there is any anti-competitive behaviour or practice, that is an issue. Otherwise, I don't find it bad for a company becoming big, said Haque.