Handset vendors revving up for 4G
Handset vendors are now gearing up for the rollout of 4G service in Bangladesh such that customers can enjoy the fastest data service as soon as it becomes available in the first quarter of 2018.
At present, only 10-12 percent of the handsets in use in Bangladesh are 4G-enabled, which have different configuration than 3G phones, according to industry insiders.
Importers brought in a total of 1.46 crore smartphones to the country between January 2016 and September 2017. Of them, about 50 lakh handsets are 4G-enabled, according to estimates of the Bangladesh Mobile Phone Importers Association (BMPIA).
"The whole handset industry is taking preparations for the upcoming 4G roll-out," said Ruhul Alam Al Mahbub Manik, president of the BMPIA.
The 4G-enabled handsets are likely to be pricier, said Manik, whose company Fair Electronics Limited is the sole distributor of Samsung handsets in Bangladesh.
"The 4G-enabled sets' configuration is different -- the price increase will be an issue. But we are trying to lower the price and even compromise on our margin."
Samsung plans to bring down the prices of a few models to less than Tk 10,000, he said, adding that handset importers have started working jointly with mobile operators to settle on the best offers for customers.
Nokia though has already brought out 4G-ready handsets for Tk 9,600.
This is the first 4G handset in Bangladesh to be sold for less than Tk 10,000, said Sandeep Gupta, general manager of SEA new markets of HMD Global, which now develops and markets Nokia-branded phones and tablets.
"We have been preparing for 4G since the middle of this year, ever since the government made a guideline on the service for mobile operators. We are quite ready now," said Ashraful Haque, director of marketing of Edison Group, the parent company of Symphony and Helio branded mobile phones. Currently, about 7 to 10 percent of Edison Group's handsets are 4G enabled, according to Haque.
Huawei officials said they are a step ahead in their preparation for the advent of 4G. About 85 percent of all its smartphones in Bangladesh are 4G-enabled, said Ziauddin Chowdhury, deputy country director of device business department at Huawei Technologies (Bangladesh) Ltd.
The mobile operators too are urging handset vendors to bring in more 4G handsets to the country and they are also partnering with brands to facilitate matters.
"Currently all of our partnerships for handsets are for 4G-enabled sets," said Mahtab Uddin Ahmed, mobile operator Robi's managing director and CEO.
Mobile operators are eagerly awaiting the launch of 4G service in Bangladesh. "That's why they are also trying to create the ecosystem with good quality smartphones." About 12 percent of Robi's subscribers now use 4G-enabled handsets.
"This percentage needs to increase so that customers can enjoy the full benefits of this exciting new technology," Ahmed said, adding that good-quality handsets are needed to get the fastest data speed. Ahmed said the high tax rate acts as a barrier to importing quality handsets.
The country's top three mobile operators -- Grameenphone, Robi and Banglalink -- have already established and tested their 4G networks and found 50 Mbps to 100 Mbps of upload and download speed, which is much higher than under existing 3G services.
All three operators have also started to make all their SIM cards 4G-enabled as they plan to launch the service across the country as soon as they get the 4G licence.
The government had a target to introduce 4G service in the country by this year but it may be delayed to the first quarter of next year as some guideline-related issues remain to be ironed out.