State-run mobile operator Teletalk is yet to start preparing to roll out 4G mobile data service because of lack of funds although it will take licence along with its competitors tomorrow.
The delay in preparation means the state venture could lose business as well as customers to its competitors which are raring to go for the fourth-generation service.
Grameenphone, Robi and Banglalink have already readied their network to launch the fastest mobile data service in Dhaka, Chittagong and some other cities. They are also working to extend the service to other important parts of the country. The government has allocated Tk 700 crore to Teletalk to upgrade its network to 4G, but the fund has not been disbursed yet and it might take time, said a top official of the operator who is related with the process. “We are already late and waiting for the money to begin the process,” he said.
Teletalk will have to prepare its 1,000 base transceiver stations in Dhaka and Chittagong for 4G on its own as getting money from the government is a lengthy process. Teletalk had placed a proposal to the board to prepare some of its sites for 4G within a couple of months on an ad-hoc basis.
Teletalk management also plans to go for a limited tendering to get equipment from vendors, but the board did not give the go-ahead as it wants full international tender. “But it takes time,” said the official, adding that Teletalk would lose business and customers because of the delay.
Telecom Secretary Shyam Sunder Sikder, also the chairman of Teletalk board, declined to comment when contacted on Thursday. Kazi Md Golam Quddus, managing director of the operator, did not receive phone calls. Teletalk had about 44 lakh active mobile phone subscribers as of December last year and has about 3,800 base transceiver stations across the country.
A few days ago Mustafa Jabbar, minister for telecommunication and information technology, said the state-run mobile operator is likely to launch the 4G service in May.
“Teletalk has a plan to launch the service in all divisional cities with its own finance of nearly Tk 200 crore.”
Another top official of the operator said right now the operator's main aim is to take the licence. It has to pay Tk 10 crore to the regulator today for the licence.
But the top officials of the operator seem to have little idea on how they will pay the technological neutrality fee amounting to $36.2 million in order for it to become capable of running the 4G.
Without paying the neutrality fee, no operator will be able to introduce the faster data service. In fact, the fee and other dues have to be cleared before they get the licence, according to the 4G guideline.
Teletalk had got the 3G licence in August 2012, more than a year before any other operator is granted the permission. But this time the state venture will get the licence along with the others.
Teletalk is using 10 megahertz of spectrum for the 3G service whose market price was Tk 1,625 crore when the third-generation licence was awarded, but the state venture has not paid the money yet.
“As Teletalk is a state-owned company we have nothing to decide about it. We are waiting for a response from the government to know about its decision on Teletalk's fees and charges,” said Shahjahan Mahmood, chairman of the commission, last week.
Currently, Teletalk is implementing two projects to expand its network up to rural areas. One will be completed by June and the other by December.
The execution of the projects will allow the operator to provide uninterrupted 3G network coverage at upazila level. Then, it will need some equipment to upgrade the network to 4G, said officials who are related to the process.