For the third time, Mir Telecom Limited, the country’s leading International Gateway (IGW) provider, has bagged the National Export Trophy for 2016-17 fiscal year for its outstanding contributions to international call termination.
Managing Director Mir Nasir Hossain, also former president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FBCCI), received the gold trophy from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on September 1.
Mir Telecom fetched $41.45 million in 2016-17 through exporting services as an intermediary on international phone calls with a strong network of partners in Asia, Europe, North America, Africa and Oceania.
The company deals more than 150 million minutes of voice calls a month.
It is a subsidiary of Mir Group of Companies, a leading conglomerate in business since 1968 with interests ranging from ceramics to construction.
In conversation with The Business Standard, Mir Nasir spoke about the successes and the challenges of IGW business in the country.
He also says what makes Mir Telecom different from others in the business.
There are now a total of 24 IGW companies in the country.
TBS: This is your third Export Trophy. How would you like to differentiate Mir Telecom from other IGW service providers?
Our infrastructure is very good. We have International Internet Gateway (IIG), a switching system to send international data traffic; Internet Service Provider (ISP); Interconnection Exchange (ICX) services; data centre and cloud service technology, which the other companies do not have.
We are better than other IGW service providers in terms of business. Our turnover is higher than that of others.
TBS: As an IGW company, how do you earn foreign currency?
The IGW is an infrastructure between the users and the international operators. We handle only international calls.
If someone from abroad makes a call to a Bangladeshi, at first, it comes to our network. Then we pass the call to the Interconnection Exchange to transmit it to mobile operators like Grameenphone, Robi, Banglalink or Teletalk.
Similarly, if any Bangladeshi user makes a call abroad, the ICXs first send it to us. Then we connect the call to the international operator concerned.
The payment of the call is made in foreign currency. This is how we earn foreign currency from receiving and delivering international voice calls.
So, it has been declared an export business.
Exporters from other sectors earn foreign currency and so do we. They sell products and we sell voice.
TBS: How do you share your earnings with other stakeholders?
As an IGW service provider we get only 20 percent of the earnings while Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) takes 40 percent, mobile operators get 22 percent and the rest goes to other entities. In 2016-17, we earned $41.45 million from dealing 50,000 international voice calls.
TBS: At the initial stage, what were the main challenges to run the business?
We are the first IGW company in Bangladesh who got the licence through an open tender.
At that time, three companies, including Mir Telecom, won the tender. It was very challenging for us as we were given only six months to make the infrastructure operational.
It was almost impossible, but we did it.
In the very beginning, it was not clear to us how to earn foreign currency from this business.
Then, there was a lack of skilled manpower. We hardly found skilled people at that time. But now, the number of qualified hands has increased dramatically. Their qualities are now of international level.
TBS: What are the major threats to the business now?
Apps-based voice call services like Viber, WhatsApp and IMO are the main threats to the IGWs’ business. These are now our main competitors as they are capturing the market.
Another big threat to the sector is illegal VoIP services.
Due to these apps and illegal VoIP, the government is losing revenues.
If any call is received by a legal router, the government gets 40 percent of the income. On the contrary, if the call is operated through an illegal router, the government gets noting.
We have been trying to convince the government to look into the matter.
TBS: How are you going to tackle the threats?
This is the age of technology. So, nobody will be able to prevent people from using new technological innovations.
But the government has a role here. If it wants, it can tackle the problem.
For example, in China, they do not allow these apps for two reasons: first, for national security and then for the survival of their local industries.
So, it totally depends on the government’s policy.
Now, from our side, we are developing our infrastructure such as data centre, SMS platform, cloud, etc. We are trying to develop new and alternative ways to fight the competition.
TBS: Tell us about the progress of international SMS service?
The mobile operators have been providing this service for a long time.
Though we had the licence for operating this service, we could not do it due to objections from different mobile operators.
But now the government has listened to our urge and given us the permission. Finally, we are in the process of launching the SMS service by next month.
If it happens, users will be able to send SMSes for less money.