The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) will not object to allocating additional spectrum or frequencies at a cheaper rate to mobile operators, if they get the prime minister's and finance minister's consent on the matter.
BTRC Chairman Md Jahurul Haque made the statement at a virtual seminar titled "Way to Mitigate the Obstacles to Allot Frequencies to Ensure Quality Customer Service," organised by the Bangladesh Mobile Phone Consumer Association on Saturday.
The quality of telecommunication services has reportedly decreased with the existing infrastructure as data consumption has increased manifold since the outbreak of Covid-19 in the country.
Therefore, three mobile phone service providers – Robi, Banglalink and state-run Teletalk – in April applied for free spectrum to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) for three months, while market leader Grameenphone verbally requested a discounted price.
However, the government has refused to allocate spectrum to mobile phone service providers either at a discounted price or free of charge during the Covid-19 emergency.
Blaming the operators for the hike of the spectrum price, the BTRC chairman said, "Operators are responsible for the spectrum price hike. We always set a base price, but they hike the price at auction.
"However, the BTRC has discussed the issue with the government to allot the additional spectrum during the pandemic. We can reduce the price if anyone purchases the full spectrum, not partial," he added.
The Bangladesh Mobile Phone Consumer Association`s president Mohiuddin Ahmed moderated the discussion.
BTRC Vice Chairman Subrata Roy Maitra, commissioner Md Aminul Hassan, Chief Executive Officer of Robi Mahtab Uddin, Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh Secretary General Brig General (retd) SM Farhad, Chief Corporate & Regulatory Affairs Officer of Banglalink Taimur Rahman and Telecom expert TI Nurul Kabir spoke at the discussion.
Mahtab Uddin said, "Any financial decision has to be approved by the finance division. However, it does not understand the importance of the telecommunication sector as the BTRC and telecom ministry do."
"Therefore, I would request the regulator and ministry take more initiative to convince the other stakeholders within the government. Customers are the king of operators and we are keen to provide the best service to them," he continued.
Banglalink's Chief Corporate and Regulatory Affairs Officer Taimur Rahman said, "In Bangladesh, it is true that telecom operators have to pay an extremely high price to acquire spectrum."
"However, if the government decides to allocate spectrum to other operators from the same band that was auctioned in 2018, the BTRC should provide it to them at the existing price. Otherwise, the pricing will go against the principle of creating a level-playing field for all the operators," he added.
He continued, "For the spectrum that can still be used for new technologies, the government should engage in proper consultation with all stakeholders so that services can be given to the subscribers at an affordable rate."
"We also believe that 5G deployment will not be possible unless there is a favorable regulatory policy and proper relevant infrastructure in the country. Moreover, if we need to pay such a high price for spectrum once again, 5G will not be a feasible venture for us commercially," he explained.
Telecom expert TI Nurul Kabir said before spectrum allocation, there should be some analysis on affordability and the ecosystem.
Urging the authorities to rethink the spectrum allocation method and policy, he added, "Great quantities of spectrum remain unused while operators are suffering to provide quality service with their limited infrastructure."
At present, market leader Grameenphone has 37 megahertz (MHz) spectrum, Robi 36.4MHz, Banglalink 30.6MHz, and Teletalk 25.2MHz in three different bands.
Telecom service providers sought a reduction in price as it costs a lot of money to buy MHz spectrum. In the last auction for 4G technology in 2018, the BTRC fixed $27 million as the floor price for per MHz of spectrum in the 2100 band, and $30 million per MHz in the 1,800 and 900 bands.
At that time, Banglalink acquired a total of 10.6MHz spectrum – 5MHz in the 2100 band and 5.6MHz in the 1,800 band – for Tk2,558 crore, while market leader Grameenphone took 5MHz only in the 1,800 band at a price of Tk1,284 crore.