In an unprecedented move, the country's second largest mobile operator yesterday blew off its pent-up resentment against the market leader over its offer of free voice call minutes and bonus data packs on humanitarian grounds during the pandemic.
Without mentioning the name of Grameenphone, Robi officials said such a price war waged by the leading operator will push smaller carriers to the brink of collapse.
In an online press conference, Robi's Chief Executive Officer Mahtab Uddin Ahmed also expressed dismay over the regulator's approval to the Grameenphone package with a series of initiatives, one of them being 10 crore free minutes to 1 crore customers (10 minutes per user).
Grameenphone also offered monthly 30GB data to the 25,000 registered doctors of the Directorate General of Health Services with a token Tk 1 per month for the next six months.
The top player is out to grab the market in the pretext of COVID-19 crisis and this is a clear example of price war declared by the market leader, said Ahmed, also the president of the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh.
"We expect that the market leader will be sensible regarding their offers and will keep their belief in co-existence," he said while calling upon the government and the regulator to look into what he terms an unhealthy competition.
Ahmed also warned that if the regulator does not step in to discipline the market leader, it will continue to cash in on the pandemic to further its business interests.
"Unless the regulator and the government believe that the country's interest is best served by having only one operator in the market, they ought to make their move right now, because we won't be able to sustain our business if the market leader is not made to adhere to significant market power (SMP) regulations now," he added.
The rift between Grameenphone and the rest began to widen when Robi, Banglalink and Teletalk demanded some free spectrum for the time being to handle the surge in data use amid the shutdown.
Grameenphone had also later sought additional spectrum for the same purpose but maintained a stance against the idea of free allocation of spectrum.
Ahmed yesterday said different countries including the US awarded free spectrum to their carriers to help ensure better service and promote social distancing.
Robi has no other option but to make retaliatory offers to secure their market share and some packages were already underway, like 10-minute talk-time and 50MB free data for customers who used to recharge regularly but now cannot do so because of the public health crisis.
The operator will pursue aggressive data bundle offers and already chalked out a plan to support stakeholders in the company's sales and distribution channels with food supply, credit facilities and health insurance.
As Grameenphone is an SMP operator, the regulator should keep this in mind while approving its packages; otherwise, the market will have to brace for dire consequences, said Shahed Alam, Robi's chief corporate and regulatory officer.
In the Indian market, there were 12 carriers even a few years ago, but only four now exist due to an unfair competition brought about by an operator with huge financial muscle.
About the complaints of Robi, Grameenphone said now is the time to stand beside the country with collective efforts and act responsibly.
"It is regrettable that such remarks are made. We appreciate that others are inspired and coming forward," said Md Hasan, head of its external communications.