State-run Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Limited is set to get the licence for the globally obsolete technology WiMax, in what can be viewed as a naïve gamble seeing the current operators are struggling to log in profits.
The venture would cost the state coffer at least Tk 500 crore: Tk 215 crore already paid to obtain the licence and another few hundred crore would be spent on service rollout.
The outlay by the loss-making government company would have been justified were the technology still relevant: even the vendors have stopped manufacturing WiMax equipment around the world.
In Bangladesh, the three WiMax operators lost 84 percent of their customers in the last five years and failed to make profit amid the onslaught of high-speed mobile internet. The number of WiMax users reached a peak of 5.05 lakh in June 2013, just before the mobile operators rolled out 3G service. As of June, the number stands at 80,860.
The limited coverage of WiMax is the major reason behind the shrinking user base: the service is mostly available in cities whereas mobile internet is available all over the country.
The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission had offered the licence to the state-owned landline operator back in 2008 but it declined. Two companies, Banglalion Communica-tions and Augere Wireless Broadband Bangladesh, snapped up the licence in an open auction then and rolled out their service in 2009. Qubee, once the second-largest operator, had only 16,211 active subscribers in June, down from 1.25 lakh during its heyday in 2013.
As of June, Banglalion, which boasted about 4 lakh subscribers at its peak in June 2013, has 28,619 subscribers. Augere Wireless Broadband Bangladesh's Qubee has 16,211 active subscribers, down from 1.25 lakh in its heyday in 2013.
In 2013 another company Bangladesh Internet Exchange Limited took the WiMax licence and rolled out its service the following year under the brand name of Ollo. As of June, Ollo's subscriber base stood at 36,041.“We are in the process of acquiring the licence as far as I am concerned,” said Md Zahangir Alam, managing director of the government's largest telecom company.
BTCL has started exploring the proposition of running WiMax service a few years back. “Definitely the technical team has justification for moving for the licence at this moment when the prospects are fewer,” said Alam, an additional secretary of the government who joined BTCL only few months back.
BTCL's move has also taken the BTRC by surprise, said a high official of the telecom regulator. “More than a crore people are using 4G now, the fastest mobile data. So WiMax is losing its relevance by the day,” he said.