India's move to launch a “Saarc satellite” has put Bangladesh in a dilemma, as the Indian initiative may reduce business opportunities of Bangabandhu-1 satellite, now in the making.
Officials of the telecom ministry and the telecom regulator said they are not against the idea of the Saarc satellite, but they are worried as the satellites will provide similar services in the same geographic locations.
India sent a letter to the foreign ministry in the middle of May, showing its interest to sign a memorandum of understanding with Bangladesh to get the country's support for the Saarc satellite.
The letter was finally sent to Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission to make a final decision through consultation with experts.
“We support the Saarc satellite, but we also have to ensure that our own satellite is a success,” Tarana Halim, state minister for telecom, told The Daily Star.
Tarana said the government has already discussed the issue with analysts. The telecom ministry will raise the matter in inter-ministerial meetings after getting a technical report from the experts, she said.
Indian High Commissioner Harsh Vardhan Shringla met BTRC Chairman Shahjahan Mahmood last week and discussed issues related to the satellite.
“We need technical discussion to make a final decision,” Mahmood said after the meeting.
The two satellites will be in different orbital slots, but they have the same service area, which will certainly create problems for Bangladesh, telecom ministry officials said.
India also mentioned in the letter that Pakistan has showed no interest in the Saarc satellite, they said.
Afghanistan also declined to participate in the India-led initiative, while the other Saarc nations -- Sri Lanka, Bhutan, the Maldives and Nepal -- are joining the bid.
At the Saarc summit in Kathmandu in 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the member countries to join the Saarc communication satellite initiative.
India sat with different member countries in several meetings since then to gain support for the satellite, the telecom ministry officials said.
BTRC officials said the Indian authority has already applied to the International Telecommunication Union for an orbital slot, and it will be easy for the country to get the desired slot if other Saarc nations support India.
The name should not be Saarc satellite if all nations do not join the project, the officials said.
The capacity of Bangabandhu-1 satellite will be greater than that of the Saarc satellite, they said.
The Bangladeshi satellite will be launched by December 2017 at a cost of Tk 2,967 crore. French company Thales Alenia Space has been awarded the work.
India had a plan to launch the satellite by this yearend but it has later been postponed to 2017.
The Bangladesh government also formed a company named Bangabandhu Communications Satellite Bangladesh Ltd, which also has plans to launch two other satellites -- Bangabandhu-2 and Bangabandhu-3.
A team led by BTRC chairman is now visiting France to meet officials of Thales Alenia to talk about issues related to the satellite project.