The telecom regulator has so far found 15 parties interested in running Bangladesh's telecom tower business, which is more than triple the number of licences up for grabs.
The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission will award four licenses to run the business with the aim of separating the network business from telecom services -- a move that is expected to rationalise the number of towers in the country and the use of land for erecting towers.
Some big local players as well as global tower companies have collected applications from the BTRC.
The deadline for handing in the application was originally May 13 but it has now been pushed back to June 11 following requests from some companies, said Md Jahurul Haque, acting chairman of the BTRC.
The process though has elicited whispers that some players have collected multiple applications under different brand names to ensure they get a licence, said a top official of the telecom regulator.
One such company is edotco Bangladesh, which has already purchased all towers of Robi and is also managing some other mobile operators' towers. It has collected two applications in two different names, reads the document.
edotco, a sister concern of edotco Group, a partner of Robi's parent company Axiatia, has declared a partnership with a local company Getco Group for running the tower business.
Confidence Tower Holdings, another local player, has teamed up with American Tower Corporation, the global market leader in tower management, and has collected at least five applications, said a top official of the BTRC's licensing division.
“We found some other applications in different names but we are quite sure all of them are the same parties and are trying to create confusion in the market,” he added.
Two local networking companies Fiber@Home and Summit Communi-cations have also collected their applications separately with their foreign partners. Both the companies have different kinds of telecom business in the country for the last eight-nine years.
“For this kind of business huge investment is needed but local experiences should also be given importance,” said Moynul Haque Siddiqui, chairman and managing director of Fiber@Home.
To get a licence and run the business effectively, at least Tk 3,000 crore will be required and that also needs to be ensured before the licence is awarded, he said.
Of the four licensees at best three can survive, said Arif Al Islam, managing director and chief executive officer of Summit Communications.
As per the BTRC guidelines, an interested entity must be a joint venture company with a Bangladeshi partner, while the foreign partner/partners will have to limit their shareholding in the entity to within 70 percent.
A minimum of three years of experience in successfully running tower-sharing business along with operation of at least 5,000 towers have also been made mandatory for the licence.
On the other hand, mobile operators or broadband wireless access operators are not eligible for the licence.
However, they can hold on to their existing towers but cannot establish any new tower. They are also prohibited from sharing their towers with the other players.
A top official of the BTRC also said they found a joint venture under the name of Telenor Group, the parent company of Grameenphone, to have collected an application with a local, Grameen Baybosha Bikash.