Telecom sector in Bangladesh
- 9 crore unique mobile subscribers
- 17 crore mobile connections
- 10 crore mobile Internet connections
- 3.23 crore active mobile financial services (MFS) accounts
- Tk17,795cr average daily transactions through MFS
4G coverage underutilised
- Nearly 95% people in Bangladesh have 4G coverage
- Only 28% of this coverage being utilised
- In comparison, India utilises 67% 4G coverage
Mobile broadband Internet – with the help of compatible handsets – can provide Bangladeshi farmers access to a wealth of scientific information and direction on agriculture, which in turn can trigger a significant growth in productivity.
Though 95% of the country's population has access to Fourth Generation (4G) network, a large number of food and grain producers across Bangladesh cannot utilise this wonderful facility due to a lack of affordable devices and necessary digital skills, says a GSMA report on Tuesday.
Along with agriculture, other sectors such as education, industries and businesses can also benefit tremendously from digital inclusion through the 4G network. But a meager 28% of total mobile connections are utilising it despite the widely available coverage.
That means a staggering 67% of the 4G infrastructure is still unutilised in Bangladesh.
The report also points out that 47% of the country's total mobile connections are still relying on the 2G technology, which only provides voice call and messaging services. 2G is a rudimentary mobile communication system, and this obsolete technology prevents its users from digital inclusion.
Compared to Bangladesh, 32% mobile connections in India still utilise 2G, which is 20% in Sri Lanka. Besides, 63% of Indian subscribers use 4G technology, which provides the country more opportunity for digital inclusion.
It further states that digital technologies, mobile devices in particular, will be crucial in implementing the Bangladesh government's 2041 Perspective Plan, achieving the SDGs and recovering economically in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Titled "Achieving Mobile-Enabled Digital Inclusion in Bangladesh," the report analyses the barriers to coverage and usage of mobile Internet in Bangladesh, and concludes with recommendations on how to strengthen efforts to increase mobile Internet adoption and support infrastructure deployment.
Highest level of consumer taxes
Among the South Asian countries, Bangladesh has the highest level of consumer taxes as a share of Total Cost of Mobile Ownership (TCMO). Taxes on smartphones represent a significant share of the TCMO.
Currently, mobile consumers pay 35% taxes in Bangladesh, which is only 25% and 23% in India and Pakistan respectively. In addition to the 15% VAT, mobile users are subjected to sector-specific consumer taxes, such as a 25% customs duty on smartphones and Tk200 per SIM card.
Addressing the barriers to coverage and usage the report suggests a concerted government and regulator action to implement policies and regulations that strengthen efforts to increase mobile Internet adoption and support infrastructure deployment.
A virtual roundtable discussion was also organised on Tuesday, jointly by GSMA and The Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh (AMTOB), a national trade body representing all mobile telecom operators in Bangladesh.
Stakeholders from the government, regulator, mobile industry, and development communities discussed how Bangladesh can advance digital inclusion by addressing two of the country's key barriers to mobile Internet usage and adoption – Affordability, and Digital Knowledge and Skills.
At the discussion, Posts and Telecommunications Minister Mustafa Jabbar said, "The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of digital technologies in keeping our citizens connected; and the need to accelerate the progress of digital transformation in Bangladesh.
"The ministry recognises the urgency of this and remains committed to ensuring that everyone in Bangladesh can utilise the Internet in order to be a part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution."
AMTOB president Mahtab Uddin Ahmed said, "Addressing the factors behind these key issues such as 4G device availability and affordability, and digital skills will be fundamental to ensuring a digital Bangladesh for all."
"The mobile industry will continue its work to improve access to and usage of the mobile Internet, and calls on the government to implement the report's recommendation to aid us in doing so," he added.
Representatives from a2i, the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC), GSMA, and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) participated at the event as panelists.
The event ended with a closing note from AMTOB Secretary General Brig Gen (Retd) SM Farhad.