Bangladesh is yet to utilise around two-thirds capacity of the Bangabandhu Satellite-1 since it was launched into orbit in 2018 – marking the country's first ever foray into space.
The Bangabandhu Satellite Company Ltd (BSCL) took operational charge of this satellite in 2019, but despite existing demand, the agency is yet to lease out any bandwidth to foreign countries or companies due to a myriad of issues, low market rates being one of them.
Since the satellite became operational, yearly earnings from this project consistently remained far behind the Tk395 crore annual revenue target set by the government, sources have said.
Bangladesh had received proposals from the Philippines, Indonesia and Nepal seeking to rent bandwidth from Bangabandhu Satellite-1, but the BSCL could not move forward on those offers due to low rates, the agency's Chairman Dr Shahjahan Mahmood told The Business Standard.
He added that the overall price of satellite bandwidth has fallen in the international market. "This is preventing the BSCL from accepting foreign proposals, and Bangladesh is currently utilising only one-third of the satellite's capacity."
Mahmood however declined to disclose the rates proposed by companies from Philippines, Indonesia and Nepal.
Bangladeshi television channels are currently paying $2,817 annually for each MHz of bandwidth, but they used to pay $4,000 per year to foreign companies for the same facility.
Discussing earnings, the BSCL chairman said, "The agency earned Tk150 crore in the 2019-20 Fiscal Year, compared to only Tk2.59 crore in the previous FY. However, the satellite must earn Tk395 crore annually during the first seven years of its lifetime to cover the capital investment."
If revenue collection stagnates at the current rate, recovering the investment will be difficult for the BSCL and it will fall into a large deficit, insiders have said.
Bangladesh launched Bangabandhu Satellite-1 into orbit at a cost of Tk2,702 crore on 11 May 2018, and became the 57th country to own a satellite. The country's first satellite contains 14 C-band and 26 Ku-band transponders, each having a bandwidth capacity of 36 MHz.
Transponders refers to a device that, upon receiving a signal, emits a different signal in response.
Bangladesh dedicated 20 of the 40 transponders for domestic use, but those are not being fully utilised either, sources have said. The country also planned to use the satellite to provide internet services in remote regions, especially in Bhasan Char of Hatiya Upazila.
But this initiative too is yet to see the light of day.
Commenting on the matter, BSCL Chairman Dr Shahjahan Mahmood said, "We have begun to implement our promises. We have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Bangladesh Police to utilise the satellite for surveillance purposes.
"We are also exploring further usage of this satellite by expanding its services to cover ATM machines, tele-medicine and tele-education services in remote and border areas. We are also planning to track fishing trawlers with the help of this satellite."
Move underway for another satellite
Even though the capacity utilisation of Bangabandhu Satellite-1 remains low, the government has already initiated the move to launch another satellite by 2023.
On 19 January this year, the BSCL assigned multinational consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers as a consultant to move forward with this initiative. PwC will recommend specifications for a satellite suitable for Bangladesh, and suggest where to procure it from.
The BSCL will prepare a project proposal once PwC submits its report, said Mahmood, adding that Bangladesh will cover all expenses related to the launch of the second satellite.