Mobile phone subscribers will have to wait around three more months to be able to switch operators every 90 days while retaining their existing numbers as the technical aspects and responsibilities have just been finalised.
Now operators will work on importing some infrastructure and software, said TIM Nurul Kabir, secretary general of the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh (AMTOB).
Mobile number portability, as it is known, gives mobile phone users choice and boosts competition in the market. Singapore pioneered the service in 1997. Now over 72 countries have it. Neighbouring India and Pakistan introduced it a few years ago.
Discussions opened in 2009 and Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) in June 2013 asked the mobile phone operators to introduce it from 2014. With operators not complying, a tender was called in 2017 to give out a licence for a single entity to provide the service and five responded.
Infozillion BD Teletech Consortium, a joint venture of a local and foreign firm, got the licence on November 30 last year and was scheduled to offer the service for Tk 30 in coordination with the operators by May 31.
Mabroor Hossain, managing director of Infozillion Limited, said they have started installing equipment and it would be complete within a few weeks.
Then they will need to run trials, for which the operators' cooperation is needed, he added.
Shahed Alam, head of regulatory affairs of Robi Axiata Ltd, said they were “very hopeful” of offering the service from the first week of August.
Operators earlier this year had sought a couple of months for preparedness.
Placing the issue before Prime Minister's ICT Affairs Adviser Sajeeb Wazed Joy in presence of Telecom Minister Mustafa Jabbar and top BTRC officials at Gono Bhaban last week, they demanded six to eight more months, said the meeting's sources.
Joy got furious, saying the operators got seven years but did nothing for the customers.
“For the last time we are extending time and no further time extension application will be allowed,” a top official present in the meeting quoted Joy as saying. Jabbar confirmed that Joy set July 31 as the new deadline.