4G service by December
Mobile users can brace themselves for faster 4G services by December if the licences are handed out in November, a minister said.
"Our target is to organise the spectrum auction by November, and by December customers will get the benefit of the fastest data service," Tarana Halim, state minister for telecom, said yesterday at a press conference at her office.
The government hopes to earn Tk 11,000 crore from the auction.
Despite the high charge, the operators will be able to provide 4G services at low prices, Tarana assured.
The government has set a floor price of $27 million for per megahertz of spectrum in the 2,100 band and $30 million for per MHz in both the 1,800 and 900 bands, according to the guideline approved by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who heads the telecom ministry.
Some 25 MHz of spectrums in the 2,100 band, 18 MHz in the 1,800 band and 3.4 MHz in the 900 band will be made available at the auction.
The operators though were calling for $15 million for each MHz in all three bands.
Tarana said they have reduced the spectrum price, going against the recommendation of the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission. And before fixing the price, they discussed the matter with the operators.
"We have to consider inflation and the previous spectrum pricing for fixing the new price," she said.
However, the operators said the telecom division never sat with them about the 4G guideline and only asked for recommendations, which were never addressed. The government will also charge $7.5 million for each MHz of spectrum's technological neutrality in the 1,800 and 900 bands.
Technology neutrality allows the operators to offer any service in any band, which reduces the cost of doing business and improves service quality.
From the 3G spectrum auction in 2013 the regulator earned about Tk 4,000 crore; a huge amount of spectrum remained unsold because of the high price.
In response to a question on the issue, Tarana said, after the planned spectrum auction the BTRC will issue a service quality guideline, which it will adhere to strictly."We will be tough on operators this time if the operators cannot meet the service quality targets -- they will be penalised."
The auction in November is a chance for operators to purchase additional spectrum needed to lift their service quality, she added. Telecom Secretary Shyam Sunder Sikder along with senior officials of the BTRC were present at the press conference.
Meanwhile, mobile operators said 4G will never be successful as many of their concerns were not addressed in the final version of the guideline.
TIM Nurul Kabir, secretary general of the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh, said they are hopeful that the government will revisit their concerns and assist them in launching 4G services as per the roadmap of 'Digital Bangladesh'.
The mobile operators do not consider the guidelines enabling enough. As a result, investors are not finding enough business potential and confidence to make such a large investment, Kabir told The Daily Star yesterday.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, the chief executive officers of the private mobile operators wrote to the state minister voicing their concerns about the charges.
The letter was signed by Banglalink CEO Erik Aas, Grameenphone CEO Michael Foley and Robi CEO and Managing Director Mahtab Uddin Ahmed. The operators will also have to retain the mobile subscribers' usage data for 12 years. They have also raised serious concerns about the matter as it will increase their cost of doing business.
The BTRC will charge Tk 10 crore as 4G licence fees and Tk 5 crore as annual fee. The operators will have to share 5.5 percent of their revenues from 4G services with the government and forward 1 percent to the social obligation fund.
Meanwhile, Tarana yesterday called a meeting with the mobile operators on Sunday to discuss their concerns, said a telecom division official. "The prime minister has already approved the guideline -- can a state minister now change the guideline? Then what will be the ultimate meaning of this meeting," said a senior official of a mobile operator.
Tarana said she will not change any of the charges or fees but she can discuss how the service can be launched and how the government can help the operators mitigate any other challenges that can come up.