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Mobile Phones Taking Over Landlines

Azwa Nayeem

Today when people are organising events with the press of a button, getting absorbed with the need of social networking and keeping updates of the stock market; mobile phones with their innovative features are making these possible. In the unarticulated yet undeniable competition between landline and mobile phones, landlines are falling behind and it seems that the day when landlines will become antique embellishments is not far away if the landline companies don't catch up soon. With greater area coverage, greater privacy provision, various features and countless advertisements mobile phone operators are increasing their popularity especially among the new generation.

While discussing a very important matter with a friend over the cell phone, I was almost running out of credit and asked her to call me back from her landline to save up the credit. When instead she called me from her cell phone, I was surprised by the tirade that followed. “Please don't even talk about landlines,” she said, “my TNT connection is hardly ever working, and it takes ages for these TNT people to get the line fixed. Even when it does seem to work I can't just walk up to my mom's room every time I have to make a call and stand in the queue with my sisters for making just one phone call. And to add fuel to the fire my cordless set doesn't even work so I have to sit in my mom's room and talk, while everyone's getting a sneak peak into my entire conversation.”

In the unequal battle, cell phones are definitely winning.

Her comments struck me and I realised that all her allegations were distressing but true. Most landlines are attached to backdated telephone sets and hardly connected to cordless sets. Nowadays, when people are habituated to the easy life aided by mobile phones, it is natural for them to feel reluctant to reach out to the landline and stay within a specific proximity every time they make a call. It was most upsetting when I realised my main objective of saving up the extra credit was beaten by my friend's allegation that privacy is preferred by our generation than a little extra cost. Landlines attached to telephone sets are usually kept in common spaces, master bedrooms or have several parallel connections, which invade this personal space.

These days when technology based firms are busy innovating mini-tablets, ultra small laptops; mobile phone companies are not falling behind either. Along with constant Internet connectivity, Bluetooth and WiFi connections are attached to majority of mobile phones to enhance the charm. Facilities like taking photos, recording videos, playing and recording music files and even transferring those from mobile to mobile automatically add sparks to the profitability of mobile phone operating companies. Such initiatives of mobile phone companies to constantly innovate and add such new features to cell phones are not only making it a substitute of laptops, but also are shifting the users from landline to mobile phone operators increasingly with the passage of time.

Today when the telecommunications industry sees constant cutthroat competition among mobile operators, landlines are falling behind with fewer competitors and technical challenges. It was identified by Bangladesh Telecommunication Company Limited (BTCL) that although the government provided licenses to 30 companies in order to promote competition, it proved to be a failure. It was seen that two to three of the companies surrendered their licenses due to difficulties in recovering costs. On the other hand when it was found that five companies were also involved in illegal Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) connections their licenses were seized. Around four to five companies are dormant in this sector leaving behind just a handful of five to six players in the field. With less competition this market is losing its ground. Added to these are the technical problems BTCL face in establishing and maintaining the infrastructure of landline network. Since the connections are established via copper wire it is sometimes interrupted by road construction and crippled when the water level rises causing the water to seep into the cable. The TNT officials also faces problems when petty thieves cut and steal the copper cable; then it takes them several days to find and fix the crisis.

Against so many odds, buying sim-cards for mobile phones are not only easy, but also less expensive than TNT phone registration since BTCL registration costs 2000 taka in Dhaka city and 1000 taka outside Dhaka. It is also seen that often people are provided with false monthly bills beyond their original bills. In addition, coincidentally majority of the landline connections are sabotaged just before a festive season such as Eid. The customers, in spite of possessing the right to avail free customer care service from Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) companies, have to pay the linemen at least 150 taka to 200 taka for the repairing job. Besides, lodging a complaint is another big hassle, when compounded with the harsh behaviour from the operators and the long anticipation time required before the linemen actually arrives. When a few dwellers from Mirpur, Mohammadpur and Old Dhaka, where the problem is significantly prevalent, were asked to comment on landline service the majority of them said that getting a landline fixed took so long that they just stopped using them and switched to mobile phones permanently. Thus corruption burdened with inefficiency constantly provokes frustration amongst the landline users to switch to mobile phones.

Yet, I would like to believe that this battle between landline and mobile phone operators is still not over and although the younger generation is more inclined towards using mobile phones, the significant older generation is still in favour of using landlines. Given the extra charges attached to mobile phones, it wouldn't seem illogical if the landline companies in our country overthrew the overwhelming existence of cell phones. According to BTCL's official rates, a call from landline to landline is just 0.3 taka per minute, while mobile phone operators charge a minimum of 0.56 taka per minute. Also, calls from landline to mobile phone are just 0.5 taka per minute whereas calls from mobile to landline charge a minimum of 0.90 taka per minute. With such inevitable differences in call charges, landlines still have an advantage over cell phones. Landlines are used through phone sets that are available at a minimum price of 500 taka to 700 taka whereas the mobile phones cost a minimum of 2,000 taka. However, even the additional cost cannot prevent the mobile phones from dying out during times of dire need since its power lasts as long as its limited battery charge lasts.

Therefore to start with probable solutions, a less expensive method could initially be used to curb corruption and inefficiency in this sector. If the number of complaint centres was increased and the manpower raised, pressure on each centre would instantly come down to a moderate level. This would not only ensure efficiency but also save costs and earn significant revenue for the government. The TNT Exchanges are established using fibre optic cable. However, this technology is still limited to the TNT exchanges only and not provided to households due to the huge costs involved. Fibre optic is the new age tool used by several Internet service providers and large telecommunication companies all over the world. It not only ensures greater coverage and greater longevity but also allows the customer to use the cable for multi purpose tasks. Fibre optic cables cannot only be used for telephone connection but also can provide Internet connection through which customers can surf the web and simultaneously watch television through the Internet.

Thus policy makers need to open up their vision and take initiative to provide landline connections through fibre optic or even subsidise private firms to initiate using fibre optic in this field. They need to implement changes in the way service is provided to the customers by encouraging efficiency and reducing corruption at all levels. If the government acknowledges the significance of this resource and acts accordingly to preserve and uphold the usefulness of this resource, landlines could still survive being reduced to a relic of the past.



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