Govt mulling lifting GP’s SIM sales ban

grameenphone sim sales banned

Grameenphone is poised to get the ban on its SIM sales lifted as the telecom minister yesterday expressed satisfaction about the country's leading mobile operator's service quality.

"We have seen a lot of improvement in the situation [quality of services], so we are considering withdrawing the SIM sales ban," Post and Telecommunications Minister Mustafa Jabbar told The Daily Star yesterday.

Earlier on June 29, four days after the Padma bridge inauguration, the telecom regulator, on instruction from the posts and telecommunications division the previous day, banned Grameenphone's SIM sales until it "improves its quality of service including bringing down call drop rate".

The letter does not specify how Grameenphone failed in terms of quality of service. It does not set any performance improvement criteria either on how to get the ban lifted.

For the country's leading mobile operator, the move was baffling given that its own drive tests were showing it was maintaining all quality-of-service (QoS) key performance indicators as per the threshold set by the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission by a good margin.

The QoS metrics include call drop rate, call setup time, call setup success rate, call clarity, service coverage area, and internet download and upload speed.

In May, its call drop rate was 0.55 percent, well below the BTRC threshold of 2 percent, shows results from the regulator's most recent drive test.

Yet, so severe seems the discontent that the posts and telecommunication division on October 18 fired off a show-cause notice to BTRC over its decision a month earlier to allow Grameenphone to recycle its 13 lakh dormant SIM cards.

BTRC had to walk back on that decision on November 6, leaving the public, the operator and experts confounded.

But on that day, at the launch event of the regulator's state-of-the-art benchmarking system held at the BTRC office in Dhaka, a picture emerged of why the SIM sales ban was imposed.

"On the day of Padma bridge inauguration, Grameenphone's network was not good there -- the prime minister saw it. The cabinet secretary then called our secretary (posts and telecommunications division) and expressed his displeasure," said BTRC Chairman Shyam Sunder Sikder at the event.

Going by that reasoning, the SIM ban seemed arbitrary, unlawful and rather motivated, found an investigation by The Daily Star.

"We have taken a report of the last six months and we have found that they have made adequate improvement. If they continue their improvement, this will benefit both customers and Grameenphone," Jabbar said yesterday.

In a letter to the posts and telecom division, Grameenphone CEO Yasir Azman said the operator plans on rolling out 889 2G new sites by December 2022 in deep rural and border sites as well as in Dhaka city.

It would expand fiberisation by 88 percent to 6,811 kilometres and increase fibre connectivity sites by 34 percent.

For faster internet speed, the operator will add high-capacity radio to enhance the transmission facility of the existing base stations and deploy more spectrum.

Grameenphone has completed the steps, as a result of which its call drop ratio has dropped to 0.3 percent and the average internet speed all over Bangladesh stands at 11Mbps, said a top official of the operator on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.


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