The availability of smartphones and the required telecommunications infrastructure are the main challenges of launching the 5G technology in the country, say experts.
They welcomed the government's initiative to launch 5G, but said the 4G network is not fully utilised yet in the country.
"At present, smartphones account for 40 percent of the total mobile phone penetration in the country, and only 15 percent of the smartphone users use 4G," said Taimur Rahman, telecom giant Banglalink's chief corporate and regulatory affairs officer.
"Now, the availability of smartphones capable of using 5G services is the main challenge. Another issue is that we are still far behind when it comes to reaching the full 4G target," he explained while speaking at a seminar in Dhaka on Sunday.
High officials of Grameenphone, Robi and Banglalink as well as technology service providers – Ericsson and Huawei – attended the seminar. Khaled Shams, managing director of 4K Engineering, a network operation and maintenance company, moderated the event.
Grameenphone's Chief Business Officer Mahmud Hossain and Robi's Executive Vice-President Syed Md Samshur Rahman also spoke at the seminar, among others.
Taimur said 5G is not only the fastest technology, it is also an eco-system.
"We need to prepare other industries – health, commerce and finance – to avail the full 5G facilities. If we want to launch 5G within several months, we need to work together. Because it does not make sense if it does not work after launching," he added.
Robi's Syed Md Samshur Rahman said Bangladesh is still in a marginal position as per the average South Asian standard when it comes to fully implementing the 4G network.
"So, it is still important for us to develop the 4G network further. According to international projections, 4G will see 100 percent penetration globally by 2022. However, for us, it will take up to 2025," he said.
Speaking of infrastructure, Samshur said robust investments in fibre optics within a year would be a tough job for the local companies.
"If there is not enough visible use of 5G networks in Bangladesh, making huge investments will be challenging for investors," he added.
Huawei and Ericsson officials, however, opined that Bangladesh has to introduce the 5G technology and that infrastructure would not be a problem.
Huawei CEO Zhang Zhengjun said, "Data transmission infrastructure, fibre optic and base transceiver station sites will be required for providing 5G services. The early we can launch 5G, the more benefits we can get."
Ericsson's Bangladesh CEO Abdus Salam said, "Before launching 3G and 4G, we did not know that those technologies would bring different e-commerce opportunities, such as ride-sharing services and online food delivery. 5G technology will also bring some opportunities that we cannot imagine now."
Md Aminul Hassan, commissioner of Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, assured the mobile phone operators that the commission would take all necessary steps to help launch the 5G network.
He said, "We will launch the 5G network in the same way we introduced previous technologies in the market. We have to work with the existing resources."
Managing Director and CEO of Summit Communications Limited Md Arif Al Islam echoed the BTRC commissioner's assurance, saying the company has already set up fibre optic cables in all upazilas.
"We are ready to provide 5G services through our infrastructure," he added.
Four mobile phone operators got 4G licences in 2018. Since then, only 30 percent of the subscribers have been brought under 4G coverage. State-owned telecom operator Teletalk's performance in providing 4G services is very miserable.
Still, Teletalk is set to place the 5G project before the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council for approval on February 11.
The company lags far behind its rivals but aims at expanding its network and improve services under the project by 2022.
The project titled "Expansion of Teletalk's Network up to Rural Areas and Network Readiness for 5G Services" will be implemented at a cost of Tk3,279 crore.