Once a much-hyped breakthrough for internet communication, WiMax is now on its last legs in Bangladesh after two out of the three operators that deployed the wireless broadband technology turned off their switches.
Augere Wireless Broadband Bangladesh’s Qubee brand and Bangladesh Internet Exchange Limited’s (BIEL) Ollo shut up shop a few months ago, while another player Banglalion is languishing with only a few thousand active customers.
Globally, the WiMax technology started to become obsolete with the launch of 3G service, and the pattern was seen in Bangladesh as well.
In middle of 2013, when 3G was rolled out in Bangladesh, active WiMax customer number was more than five lakh and now it has come down to less than 60,000 as of April, according to data from the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission.
In this context, the BTRC has taken a tough stance in realising the three players’ outstanding amount of Tk 226.57 crore. It has also decided to cancel the licence of Banglalion and take back its allocated spectrum.
The BTRC has placed the issues in a recent commission meeting, where it was decided that Banglalion’s 95 percent bandwidth capacity will be blocked if it fails to clear its Tk 152.61 crore dues.
At the same time the telecom regulator has decided to take back Banglalion’s spectrum and start the process of cancelling its licence.
As of March, Qubee has Tk 56.07 crore in dues and Ollo Tk 17.89 crore.
BTRC has been kept in the dark about Qubee and Ollo’s shuttering, said its Chairman Md Jahurul Haque.
“We know they are passing through a tough time but we have no clue about their business operations’ current status,” Haque told The Daily Star yesterday.
The government has asked the BTRC to go for tough actions to realise the outstanding fees and charges.
“But as a regulator we have no intention of cancelling any licence,” he added.
GM Faruq Khan, head of marketing and communication at Banglalion, said he has no clue about the latest BTRC decision as the operator is yet to receive any letter.
“We had started our service to do something great in the internet business. But we received poor support from the government.”
Khan, who has been involved in this business from the beginning, said after the rollout of 3G most of the young users have abandoned the WiMax technology.
“All the major vendors in the world have stopped manufacturing WiMax network equipment, dongles or other devices.”
Banglalion is now trying to sell off some parts of their business and bring in fresh investment.
“Even the regulator also is not helping us to forge a collaboration with the mobile operators. We have huge spectrum and fewer customers, whereas they have large number of users but less spectrum than us.”
If the WiMax operators team up with mobile operators to provide internet service, the former can easily survive, he added.
In 2008, two operators -- Banglalion and Qubee -- were awarded WiMax (worldwide interoperability for microwave access) licences for Tk 215 crore each. Ollo got the licence in 2013.
The three have spent more than Tk 2,500 crore on network and customer acquisition but hardly got returns on their investment.
OLLO OFFICE LOCKED FROM THE START OF THE YEAR
This correspondent visited BIEL’s office in the last week of May and found it to be firmly shut. One of the security guards of the building where the office is housed said Ollo employees have packed up and left at the start of the year. BIEL has not even cleared the rent.
The Daily Star tried to contact the official numbers of Ollo but found them switched off. Its Facebook page has been inactive since August last year.
However, one of its employees requesting anonymity said he has outstanding salary for eight months and the foreign management brought in to run the company has left the country.
QUBEE NETWORK SHUTDOWN FROM NOVEMBER
Once the second largest WiMax operator, Qubee had only 16,211 active subscribers in June last year, down from 1.25 lakh during its heyday in 2013.
Having handed over its individual customers to market leader Banglalion, it had only a few thousand corporate customers.
But its investors cannot wind down the company or bring in fresh investment due to complications in the venture’s shareholding structure.
A senior official of the operator requesting anonymity said they have active licence and offices but cannot operate due to huge costs every month.