Bangladesh telecom sector will show its real potentiality in the near future following the back up support of internet and upcoming 3G mobile phone service which would help the country expedite its economic development and give the country real experience of higher technology use.
Following the development in telecom infrastructure, foreign buyers will be attracted to invest in the country's Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) market because of low cost labour and adaptation compared to other global markets.
Within a foreseeable future, the telecom and infrastructure sector is expected to contribute handsomely to the country's forex reserve like the garment industry as more and more IT firms, freelance outsourcing and software export entities will spread throughout the country, creating substantial employment opportunities.
Newly launched International Terrestrial Cable (ITC), upcoming third generation (3G) service and 2nd submarine cable will give the sector a great boost.
But the mobile operators thinks due to poor literacy rate lack of local content affordability problem, the 3G - enabled mobile handset penetration might face hurdles.
Telecom authority took different kinds of initiative to develop the sector. But because of some decisions of the Bangladesh Telecom Regulatory Commission (BTRC) the sector has not been able to make progress at right pace.
3G and VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) a couple of the clear examples.
As a result the government is being deprived of substantial amount of foreign exchange earning while the country is lagging behind in the technological advancement.
The number of illegal VoIP calls has recently increased dramatically to nearly 25 million from nearly 5 to 10 million per day last few months. The decline is reportedly causing a daily revenue loss to the tune of Tk. 150 million to the government.
However, the authority by issuing too many licences in gateway operator category than its market size inspired illegal VoIP. It issued 79 new licence in three categories- international gateways (IGW), interconnection exchanges (ICX) and international internet gateways (IIG).
Besides, BTRC has failed to properly protect the public switched telephone network (PSTN) sector that just started operation and got good response within a short time. In the rudimentary level, the PSTN operation of RanksTel, People'sTel, National Telecom, Dhaka Phone and WorldTel were shut down for their illegal involvement with VoIP business.
3G service has immense potentiality to create local IT firms for development local contents on different issues. Even people will be used to internet for their regular activities which will save their time and money.
According to the BTRC, the authority is working to implement the service soon.
Six mobile operators-Grameenphone, Banglalink, Robi, Airtel, Citycell and Teletalk- have almost 98.293 million users till October 2012 and the internet users reached 30 million. Of them 95 per cent of subscribers use the internet through mobile phone.
By last ten years, Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) issued more than 1016 licences in almost 30 categories.
With a view to bringing discipline in the sector, the commission has made 12 licencing guidelines and announced the 'national spectrum allocation policy' that shows the potentiality of the country's telecommunication sector in the international arena.
The country got recognition as one of the top 30 outsourcing countries by Gartner. In terms of mobile-broadband subscription, Bangladesh stands at a dismal 155th position out of 177 countries. The International Telecommunications Union's latest report on world internet use showed that Bangladesh still lagged behind at 97th position among 127 developing and least developed countries in household internet use.
Telecom has become the highest foreign direct investment receiving one. Operators have been brought under a regulatory guideline over the last 10 years.
The sector contributed Tk 170 billion (17,000 crore) to the government exchequer as non-revenue tax in the last ten years.
In the current stage, the country needs to focus on 'international branding' to uphold its image to the global community for the promising outsourcing sector that could be a next highest foreign currency earning source after garment industry.
Bangladesh has already proved its strength in freelance outsourcing being in the as position third in the list of Odesk, a biggest market place of the world for outsourcing.
Another good trend is that the government has been reducing bandwidth price gradually which is now Tk8,000 per Mbps and the price needs to be reduced more to increase the service of the internet.
Bangladesh Submarine Cable Company Limited (BSCCL) and six ITC operators - Novocom Ltd, Asis-AHL JV, BD Link Communication Ltd, Mango Teleservices Ltd, Summit Communications Ltd and Fibre@home Ltd- are the main source for connecting the country with the information super highway.
The capacity of the underwater submarine cable is 85 Gbps and the country uses only 26 Gbps for voice and data service, according to the BSCCL.
According to the Bangladesh Association of Call Center and Outsourcing (BACCO) shortage of skilled and experienced manpower is the major problem for prospective BPO business.
The students who are good in Bengali and English communication have bright opportunity in the industry. Almost 20,000 manpower are working in 60 call centers.
BPO business flourished in our neighboring countries. India's earning from BPO in 2010 stood at US$ 70 billion plus while that of the Philiphines US$ 9.0 billion and Sri Lanka US$ 5.0 billion.
International experts who recently visited the country expressed their opinion regarding the country's IT sector. They pointed out that the country could utilize its youth force for the sector by giving them training and suggested to focus improvement of telecommunication infrastructure and IT resources.
Growth of the emerging software industry of the country is witnessing a slow growth during last five years. The sector contributed only about US$200 million to foreign currency earnings despite having a large potential.
'Possibility of the sector is huge' according to the industry insiders, but lack of financing and proper infrastructure, shortage of electricity and bandwidth are major problems.
Total software export of the country was nearly US$ 70 million in fiscal year (FY) 2011-12, US$ 45.31m in 2010-11, US$35.36m in 2009-10, US$ 32.91m in 2008-09 and US$24.82 in 2007-08.
According to BASIS (Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services) survey, there are over 800 registered software and ITES (IT Enabled Service) companies in Bangladesh. Of them, 100 companies export product to 30 countries.
3G mobile phone service will be best rolling sector for economic development. So government should keep base price of the spectrum at a reasonable level so that operators can offer the service at an affordable cost. Since Indian government charged high price for spectrum, the 3G service in India is yet to be successful.
The BTRC has reserved 50 MHz spectrum of 2100 brand aiming to provide 10 MHz to each expected bid winner including state owned Teletalk.
Telecom ministry of the country has suggested US$ 20 million as the base price for auction of per MHz spectrum of 3G service.
We hope that the government will give importance to the sector which will be the next core sector for forming ICT based society and make the country digital.
The writer is a staff reporter of FE.