The freedom of switching mobile operators every 90 days while retaining an existing number might remain elusive for some more time as a technical issue over international calls has remained unresolved while Teletalk is yet to achieve technical readiness.
According to Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission's (BTRC) most recent order, the mobile number portability (MNP) service was scheduled to be made available from August 1.
Though BTRC gave a guideline and set the prices for rolling out the service, the issue remained unsettled over how a call from abroad could reach its destination if the recipient has changed the operator but has retained the previous operator's code.
A cellphone number in Bangladesh starts with a zero which is followed by the operator's code and the subscriber's number. Each operator has been assigned a unique code.
The issues were placed before Prime Minister's ICT Affairs Adviser Sajeeb Wazed Joy at a meeting on Tuesday and another meeting with Joy will be held next week for a final decision to be reached, said Md Jahurul Haque, acting chairman of the telecom regulator.
Infozillion BD Teletech Consortium, a joint venture of a local and foreign firm which got the licence to offer the MNP service, says while it was ready to meet the launch deadline, the unresolved issue would lead to hassles, such as customers finding it hard to get international calls.
On the other hand, market insiders said Grameenphone, Robi and Banglalink were also ready to provide the service, sans the international call issue.
Mobile number portability, as it is known, gives mobile phone users choice and boosts competition in the market. Singapore pioneered the service in 1997. Now over 72 countries have it. Neighbouring India and Pakistan introduced it a few years ago.
Discussions opened in 2009 and the BTRC in June 2013 asked the mobile phone operators to introduce it from 2014. With operators not complying, a tender was called in 2017 to give out a licence for a single entity to provide the service and five responded.
Infozillion then got the licence on November 30 last year.
At a meeting with Telecom Reporters Network Bangladesh at his office yesterday, Mabroor Hossain, managing director of Infozillion Limited, said they would charge an operator Tk 150 for each subscriber that switched to it.
According to the BTRC guideline, customers will have to reach the operator they intend to switch to and pay Tk 30 alongside a 15 percent VAT to get a replacement SIM card.
“Customers will have to pay only around Tk 34 in total,” Hossain said. He said they had invested some Tk 55 crore so far and estimated to break even after around nine years.
Currently there are about eight crore mobile phone users and 15.09 crore active SIMs in the market as of June. Infozillion and the operators estimate only 2 percent will switch initially.