Yasir Azman, the new Chief Executive Officer of Grameenphone Ltd, has shared his views with The Business Standard on the company's priority areas, preparation for future, ongoing dispute with the telecom regulator.
Congratulations, and tell us what are you going to add in Grameenphone as the first homegrown CEO?
I am a big believer in our purpose, empowering societies. I will keep focusing on further how we contribute more in connecting our customers to what matters most to them. Knowing our customers need better and working with our regulators to bring new innovative services and technology are my priorities.
What are your initial goals as the new CEO?
Connecting our customers to what matters most of them is our prime objective. We have built a nationwide high-speed data network in the country, more than 74% of our population already under 4G network coverage. We are the leading telecom operator in rolling our 4G network and crossed more than 10,000 4G sites already. We have seen in the latter part of the year 2019 our investment has slowed down due to the restrictions imposed on us and to another operator from authorities. We believe that we shall soon come out from this situation and continue our journey of excellence in network experience.
While building and strengthening the 4G network in the whole of Bangladesh, it is our priority to modernize Grameenphone, the way we interact, serve our customers, and the way we work internally. It is vital for our sustainability and better value to our customers in the digital era.
Besides above all, I would like to bring the purpose of this telecom industry in the center of everything we do. And that's how do we empower our societies to achieve more, to unleash the true potential of every individual through connectivity solutions.
Is Grameenphone trying to save some bucks in network strengthening? There are more complaints about call drops and low data speed. In a recent report, we saw that you are not at the top of the 3G speed.
Grameenphone is regarded as the best in network and services by customer choice. The OOKLA speed test award in 2019 also has been received by Grameenphone twice stands as a testimony.
Our 100% sites are converted to data network and we are not done with rolling our 4G, we have plan to strengthen 4G network for better customer experience, in 2020 we shall upgrade and modernize our 4G network in a way that will ensure better readiness for 5G in coming years.
What is your view on the regulator's audit claim?
Well, in any industry, companies, and regulators may have a difference in opinions, stances. And those are subject to dialogues if both the sides intend to resolve.
We had been looking for dialogues, but unfortunately, we ended up in court when an appointment of administrator came into the picture; this matter is sub-judice now as we have done a review petition already, we better not comment further on this.
Out of the total claim of 12579.95 crores, 2300 crore are principle amount claim from BTRC, more than 4086 crores are claimed a part of NBR ongoing matters and in the settlement process or already been settled. The rest significant amount is interest in the principal amount 2300 crores. We have observations on the principle amount that we mentioned and explained on several occasions. We hope to resolve through dialogue as in the court it's the injunction on NOCs stays or not part of it; we need the settle the audit claim through the right process also.
Is there any possibility of arbitration?
We have been looking for arbitration from the beginning. However, it didn't proceed due to the fact BTRC sighted it as out of BTRC act/telecom law, although arbitration takes place under the Arbitration Act 2001. Under this Act, parties to any dispute can always invoke arbitration to resolve the dispute. Besides, dialogue between the industry and the regulator is also an alternative. And we are increasingly seeking for effective dialogues on the issues pending, keeping aside the court matters to be resolved there.
How is the dispute likely to end? What is your preparation now?
Any dispute should end through dialogues.
And in our case, too, the dialogue is more likely to be the solution, I still believe.
Everybody is here for a constructive purpose, and in the arena of technology to build a digital Bangladesh, it is more important. At this point of time all are looking forward to the outcome of the review petition, and we hope to get back into a positive dialogue soon after.
If the court says to pay the entire Tk2,000 crore, what Grameenphone will do?
We cannot talk before the results of the review petition.
What about 5G, especially when we are still suffering drops in high rise buildings at the capital?
Our regulators are talking about 5G to come in the next two years. In the last Digital Mela 2020, we have heard from Honorable ICT advisor in regards to Govt's view on the timing for 5G, that is directional for the industry, so we have time in between to roll out 4G nationwide, strengthen it further, and at the same time preparing for Next. Bringing in 5G is not only about a spectrum auction. There is a lot to make to get into the 5G rollout stage. We need to understand 5G is not a standalone service from operators. It's the need for building an overall ecosystem, operators, services, platform all to come together into a synchronized play. Hence, we are now working on those solutions in IoT and ICT space as readiness. Then our core network readiness, capabilities enhancement to ensure the right experience all those are into focus now. As far as the regulators concern, we need to conclude on the way of spectrum pricing; existing pricing mechanism shall not work in 5G scenario, there are different global experience as reference, we need to see how to build the infrastructures, there is completely different need for numbers of sites in case of 5G rollout, much higher in numbers and in smaller sizes closer to customers, markets those are already testing 5G, there are examples of opening up govt holdings free to establish those sites. So there is progress in terms of readiness, including 4G network up-gradation that in time will help for 5G, and there are still lots of areas to bring in further clarity. We intend to work more closely with the relevant authorities to bring in advance technologies in the country on time. As a global operator, we have started getting experience in building the skillset for 5G use cases to launch.
On the quality, as you mentioned in the high rise building in the capital city, Dhaka's topography is rapidly changing. New construction and high-rise building all over the city; those put MNOs in a challenging situation; however, every problem brings the opportunity to bring a solution. We are coping up with the ever-changing Dhaka city and shall improve further.
At the overall level, we have way below the regulator's target set on us for call drop. However, we are serious about customers' feedback and committed to bringing better solutions. We shall go for higher numbers of sites in the city, and we hope that city dwellers will help to secure those. Telecom is a well-established industry and with a positive impact globally. In the 5G era, we shall see the need to even higher numbers of sites, hence the need for access to infrastructures.