Digital Bangladesh held back by service delivery bottlenecks: Robi CEO
There is a very big gap between the reality and vision declared by the government on digitalisation as a huge number of bottlenecks lie behind service delivery processes, said a top executive of a Bangladeshi mobile carrier yesterday.
The number of fourth-generation (4G) service users is not more than 21 per cent in Bangladesh as of June, Mahtab Uddin Ahmed, chief executive officer of Robi, told a panel discussion organised by the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA).
Meanwhile, the coverage has reached 80 per cent of the country and smartphone penetration is about 40 per cent, he said at the session where a "Mobile Economy Asia Pacific 2020" report was placed for discussion.
Synchronisation needs to be brought in with the political vision of Digital Bangladesh and the policies to get the maximum benefit out of it, he said.
"We remain in the past in lots of parameters, though the country has a huge opportunity and the government has a very clear vision."
Responding to a query from the audience, Ahmed said it was not possible for Robi under the current regulations to serve like Indian carrier Jio, which has changed the whole telecom ecosystem of the vast neighbouring country.
Jio is holding a unified licence in India, which is prohibited in Bangladesh, as a result of which it can build its own towers, lay its optical cables as required and is not bound to connect with carriers like interconnection exchanges or international gateway operators.
"Multi-layered licences are one of the big challenges in Bangladesh with higher spectrum charge with low return and highest taxes in the world."
Without changing the landscape of the licencing policy, telecom services of the country will not improve, he said.
"We also can cut down the service cost if mobile carriers can build their own infrastructure," Ahmed added.
Bangladesh does not even have the solid foundation to launch 5G services, said Jeanette Whyte, head of public policy for Asia Pacific region of the GSMA, while moderating the event.
Highlights of the "Mobile Economy Asia Pacific 2020" report before the panel discussion also mentioned that the gender gap in telecom service usage was huge in South Asia.
Across the Asia Pacific region, the mobile industry stepped up to the Covid-19 challenge, highlighting the need for a robust digital ecosystem.
The pandemic has had a significant impact on the regional economy as well as on the digital ecosystem, they added.
One area affected is 5G, which is at a crucial early stage and at the cusp of scaling across regions.
With Covid-19 impacting both deployments and uptake, it forecasted a 20 per cent drop in 5G connections in 2020 compared to previous expectations.
Meanwhile, 60 per cent of the region's population was currently without access to mobile internet and the pandemic has highlighted how detrimental the digital divide is, particularly in times of crisis.
With 700 million new mobile internet users expected by 2025, cooperation between the mobile industry and policymakers will prove crucial in ensuring digital resilience and reliable connectivity in the long term.
According to the report, Bangladesh's mobile telecom market was still dominated by the second generation (2G) services while scenarios in other Asia Pacific countries are quite different, predominated by 4G services.
The 2G technology is the mobile communications standard allowing mostly voice calls, text messages and limited data transmission while 4G is more data driven.
By 2025, Bangladesh will be a data-driven market where 4G services will dominate with a 46 per cent share, reads the report published recently.
Bangladesh is positioned below the average standard of the Asia Pacific countries in almost all the parameters and the situation will last long, even after five years, the report's data shows.