French firm gets contract
French company Thales Alenia Space has been given the job of launching Bangladesh's first satellite as part of the government's efforts to narrow the digital divide and create new opportunities.
The cabinet committee on purchase yesterday approved Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission's proposal for awarding a work order to the company for launching commercial satellite Bangabandhu-1 by December 2017.
Thales Alenia Space will manufacture, launch and maintain it for providing communication and broadcast services, said State Minister for Posts and Telecommunications Tarana Halim.
The government wants to launch the satellite on December 16 on the occasion of the 45th anniversary of the country's victory in the Liberation War, she said.
“This will be a great achievement for us and it will lead us to real digitisation,” Tarana told The Daily Star over the phone after the approval.
According to a BTRC feasibility study, the satellite will narrow the digital divide, as it will take broadcasting and telecommunication services to rural areas and introduce profitable services, including direct-to-home services, across the country.
Industry experts said the satellite will help facilitate new services and create jobs.
ATM Monirul Alam, convener of the proposal evaluation committee, said they would need a couple of days to award the work order, as some formalities were still to be completed.
The project documents will be placed before Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for approval. Since it is a high-priority project, the approval is likely to come without any delay, said Monirul, commissioner for spectrum management at the BTRC.
He said they will give Thales Alenia Space 24 months to launch the satellite. The company will, however, get an additional period of three months given that it shows the reasons behind the delay.
Currently, the country meets its need for satellite connectivity by renting bandwidth from satellite operators, which costs almost $14 million a year.
According to the BTRC proposal, the project will reach the break-even level in seven years and allow the regulator to sell excess capacity to other nations.
Bangabandhu-1 will be able to provide services to all South Asian countries, as well as others, including Indonesia, the Philippines, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, if its frequency is properly coordinated.
Bangladesh will be the 54th country to own a satellite once Bangabandhu-1 is launched in the orbital slot at longitude 119.1 degree east with 40 transponders.
Bangladesh bought the slot from Intersputnik, a Russian satellite company, for $28 million early this year. The purchase agreement stipulates that the satellite has to be launched by June 2018.
Critics say the satellite will not be able to bring much benefit to telecom services, which are run through fibre optic cables in the country.
According to BTRC experts, the satellite will help improve weather forecast system and facilitate exploration of natural resources on land and sea.
A BTRC official involved in the project said landlocked countries such as Nepal and Bhutan, which have no submarine cable, maintain their telecommunications through satellites. It means, this satellite's importance will not diminish.
Monirul said a company would be formed to handle all financial aspects of the satellite services.
“Commercial success of the satellite will depend mostly on the company's performance. We need to hire experienced people to get optimum benefits.”
The BTRC has selected two locations for the satellite's ground handling: Telecom Staff College in Gazipur and Betbunia Earth Station in Rangamati.
The telecom regulator received bids from four companies: Thales Alenia Space, China's Great Wall Industry Corporation, USA's Orbit ATA and Canada's MDA.
Thales Alenia Space was the second lowest bidder with an offer of $248 million while MDA was the lowest bidder with $222.75 million.
BTRC officials said both financial aspect and technical side were considered in selecting the bidder.
Bangladesh has applied to the International Telecommunication Union for four more slots, as at least three satellites are needed to run a viable satellite company and cover the entire globe, they said.