Grameenphone (GP), the county's leading mobile phone company, has lost 11 lakh subscribers in the opening quarter of 2020 – while the customer bases of all other operators grew.
According to the latest data of the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC), the number of GP subscribers stood at 7.53 crore at the end of March – down from 7.64 crore in January.
The operator added 10 lakh new subscribers in the same period of the previous year.
GP – which holds 46 percent of the market share – has recently been caught up in controversy for desperately trying to win back inactive subscribers by taking advantage of the Covid-19 crisis.
Other mobile operators have accused GP of implementing its marketing campaigns under the disguise of CSR activities during the crisis period.
In the January-March period, Robi gained five lakh new subscribers while Banglalink and state-owned Teletalk gained four lakh each.
The loss of the largest operator also impacted total mobile phone subscriber growth in the country as it declined to 16.53 crore – losing three lakh users at the end of March.
Industry insiders said GP's winning streak seems to have come to an end as the operator has recently experienced slow growth.
BTRC data showed, in 2019, GP added 34 lakh new users, which is 50 percent lower than the 69 lakh new subscribers the company added in the previous year.
GP's long-standing tussle with the government over Tk12,579 crore of audit claims and punishment – including the suspension of service and expansion –held back the expected growth, the company said.
Asked about the matter, GP said the scarcity of available numbers was the main reason behind the decline in the number of its users.
"We were facing a scarcity of numbers from the beginning of the quarter – that has negatively impacted our subscriber base. After continuous engagement, on March 12, 2020, Grameenphone received formal approval from BTRC to recycle numbers available for resale to meet customer needs," Md Hasan, head of external communication of GP, told The Business Standard.
When GP launched its service in the country, its numbers began with 017 with 10 crore connection capacity.
After the company exhausted this, the allocated connections with the prefix, the BTRC in October 2018 gave it permission to sell two crore new connections that would begin with 013.
The company has almost sold out the connections it was allocated by February this year and failed to get BTRC permission to reallocate unused numbers due to audit-related restrictions.
As of February, GP had 30 lakh unused connections with a daily need of 50,000 SIMs, Chief Executive Officer of the company Yasir Azman had earlier said at a press briefing.