On 11 October 2011, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina unveiled the locally assembled low-cost laptop Doel at a programme at the Bangabandhu International Conference Center in the city.
The Premier launched four models of Doel at the programme. The price of the cheapest one – Primary 2102 model – was Tk10,000. The prices of other models were Tk13,500, Tk22,000 and Tk26,000.
The main purpose of Doel was to provide students with low-cost laptops. State-run Telephone Shilpa Sangstha assembled the laptops in collaboration with Dhaka-based 2M Corporation and Malaysian TFT Technology.
The PM even asked the education ministry to take effective steps to introduce laptops on a massive scale at all schools to free the students from carrying so many textbooks.
The initiative however failed.
There was much discussion about low-cost Doel laptops even before it hit the market. Due to its low price tag, people began queueing to buy the Primary 2102 model laptops for Tk10,000. When the company announced they would see Primary 2102 for Tk5,000, the demand reached sky high.
Customers however soon became frustrated with the laptop's performance. One after another user complaied the laptops did not have charge most of the time, became excessively hot and the operating system did not work properly.
Even the Basic 0703 also caused problems.
"Basic 0703 model was launched in 2011. The problem with this model rose with battery backup. It could backup for one hour for its 22000mAh. Later, the company replaced the battery with 44000mAh for Tk1,000 more," said Telephone Shilpa Sangstha official ABM Nahiduzzaman.
As a result of these problems, many people started shying away from Doel laptops. Since 2011, the company assembled a total of 11 models of laptop. However, people have little idea of its existence now.
In search of Doel laptops
This correspondent went out in search of Doel laptops at the company's Ramna Sales and Service Centre adjacent to Dhaka South City Corporation building. At a corner of Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Limited's old building, an operator called Sajal Ahmed was sitting at his desk.
When asked if there was any Doel laptop on sale, he nodded. He said they were selling one model of Doel laptop, Freedom QN42, for Tk15,000.
There were no leaflets of the company's other laptops at the sales center. They generally show people a model of the laptop and describe its configuration.
When asked about sales, he said the salesman is on leave. He asked the correspondent to talk to the Dhaka Metropolitan's sales in-charge ABM Nahiduzzaman.
"The sales of our laptops are increasing day by day. In September, a total of 30 laptops were sold from Ramna Sales and Service Centre. In October, the sale of laptops rose to 48," said ABM Nahiduzzaman.
The sale of Freedom QN42 model is rising due to heavy discount. The original price of the laptop was Tk22,000 when it was launched in 2018. The government slashed the price by Tk7,000 recently.
"You will not find any laptop with that configuration at that low a price. The processor of the laptop is Intel Pentium Quad Core N4200. The price of other brands with the same configuration is no less than Tk26,000," said ABM Nahiduzzaman.
The company has only four laptop sale centers in the city: at Ramna, IDB Bhaban, Nilkhet and at Sher-e-Bangla area. The other sale centers are in Khulna, Tongi and Rajshahi.
The company has no distributers or dealers across the country. There is a website exclusively for Doel laptop. However, the website is down.
The company is now selling five models of Doel laptops- Freedom QN42 which has Intel Pentium Quad Core processor N4200, Doel Advance Core i3 7th generation for Tk38,400, Doel Advance Core i3 7th generation for Tk41,300 and Doel Advance Core i5 8th generation for Tk48,000 and Doel BB 2020 Intel Core i7 10th generation for Tk72,000.
ABM Nahiduzzaman blamed the computer shop owners for people's lack of interest for Doel laptops.
"Businessmen give customers a bad impression of Doel laptop, as a result, people do not take the risk of buying," he said.
Azizur Rahman, who runs a boutique shop in Mirpur, bought a Freedom-QN42 model in 2018 for Tk22,000. He bought another laptop of the same model six months back for Tk15,000.
"If you consider the price and configuration, I will say it is a good computer. The performance is also satisfactory," said Azizur Rahman.
He also said people do not buy Doel laptops because they do not know where the computer is being sold.
"The marketing is ineffective because they do not have any sales target. As they get a salary every month irrespective of whether the computer is sold or not, they care little about sales," he added.
Fakhrul Haider Chowdhury, managing director of Telephone Shilpa Sangstha Limited, said the government launched laptops for Tk10,000 but it failed to satisfy people's expectation as its quality was not that good. It was not possible to provide quality laptops at that price in the beginning.
According to him, there is a demand for 10 lakh laptops in the country annually. The company has produced only 80 thousand laptops since 2011. Every year, the company produces around 10,000 laptops. The market share of the company is one percent in the country.
The company has new showrooms in Manik Mia Avenue and New Market. They also launched a showroom at IDB Bhaban in January 2019.
Last year, Prime Minister's ICT Affairs Adviser Sajeeb Wazed Joy inaugurated the BB2020 intel Core i7 9th generation. The price of the laptop is around Tk72,000.
"If you want to buy the same configuration computer now, you will have to spend more than Tk1 lakh," said Fakhrul.
The company chief said they are trying to directly import laptop components from abroad, which will increase profit margin. Currently, it has a five percent profit margin.
"If we can import components from manufacturers directly and get tax benefits as a state-run company, we can sell laptops at a cheaper rate," said Fakhrul.
The company, meanwhile, provided 24,000 laptops to the Directorate of Posts, 23,331 laptops to the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, 13,625 laptops to Sheikh Russel Digital Lab and 2,799 laptops to Bangladesh Army.
"The company has the capacity to assemble 500 laptops daily. There are 51 operators. When there is no work, we have to pay them a salary," he added.
He admitted that the showroom in Ramna is not well-furnished but the showrooms in New Market and Sher-e-Bangla Nagar are well-equipped.
"We worked on quality so far, and now we are looking to expand on the marketing side," said Fakhrul.
The factory has the capacity to have a 15 percent market share, as it can produce 500 laptops daily.
"We have a capacity of producing more than 1,50,000 laptops annually. But we assemble 10,000 annually because of the low demand," he said.
The company will soon start television advertisements. Sales centres will also be set up in all districts.
"By 2021, you will find the Doel computer in the market. And it will be of good quality," said Fakhrul.