Saturday 1 May 2021

No 5G in Bangladesh until 4G Succeeds

Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. However, economic constraints over the last few decades has resulted in under-investment in network infrastructure, with the result that the country has an under-developed fixed-line market, with the fixed-line penetration rate being the lowest in South Asia.

Bangladesh’s mobile market is also relatively under-developed, though it has experienced strong growth over the last six years. Operators have trialled 5G and the BTRC is expected to auction spectrum for 5G services before the end of 2021, aiming to provide national 5G coverage by 2026.

Slow to moderate mobile subscriber growth is predicted in coming years, with constraints to stronger growth coming from intense local competition and from additional taxes in the national budget which are expected to dampen consumer use of services.

Bangladesh has also seen a very rapid increase in mobile broadband penetration over the past five years, though it remains well below most other Asian countries. Growth is being driven by a rising number of mobile subscribers able to access faster download speeds on LTE networks. An unprecedented level of investment among operators during 2018 and 2019 extended the footprint of LTE infrastructure and laid the groundwork for operators to launch 5G services from 2021.

There are currently four mobile network operators in Bangladesh according to BTRC ( ). TeleTalk (state-owned - Under Ministry of Post & Telecommunication), Grameenphone (joint venture with Telenor), Banglalink (by VEON - a subsidiary of Telenor) and Robi (by Malaysian Axiata Group and Indian Bharti Enterprises Ltd)

The 3 biggest private operators GrameenPhone, Banglalink and Robi have more than 95% of all customers. State owned TeleTalk is now growing. Another provider called Citycell based on GSM-incompatible CDMA was shut down in 2016/7 for not paying its dues. Airtel Bangladesh merged into Robi.

With all operators 2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz. 3G up to HSPA+ on 2100 MHz is still in the population centers mostly. In 2017 the regulator has made all licenses technology-neutral and will give out new spectrum in 2018. The three operators Grameenphone, Robi-Airtel and Banglalink have started 4G/LTE in February 2018.

Teletalk Bangladesh Ltd., brand name Teletalk (Bengali: টেলিটক) is a state-owned mobile phone company. It's the smallest operator of all mobile phone services in Bangladesh with a 2% market share caring for only 4 million out of 131 million mobile users. Teletalk provides internet & voice sevice at cheapest rate. It's service is not as good as others but trying to improve regularly. But those traveller's who want to visit Sundarban, Dublar Char Island, Katka Sea Beach, Jamtola Beach or Remote HillTrack area must carry a Teletalk SIM Card because in some area There are no network except Teletalk.

Teletalk Bangladesh limited was established keeping a specific role in mind. Teletalk has forged ahead and strengthened its path over the years and achieved some feats truly to be proud of, as the only Bangladeshi mobile operator and the only operator with 100% native technical and engineering human resource base, Teletalk thrives to become the true people’s phone – “Amader Phone”.61% of Its BTS is 4G.

Grameenphone (Bengali: গ্রামীণফোন) is also known as GP, a joint venture between Norway's Telenor and Grameen Telecom Corp. It's the largest operator in the country with a 46% market share in 2019 when it was declared dominant player by the regulator. 100% of Its BTS is 4G.

The operator announced back in Feb, the transition of 15,500 of its mobile towers across the country as 4G-enabled, to commemorate Bangladesh's 50th anniversary and reaffirming its commitment to unleash digital potential in every corner of the country.

With nationwide 4G coverage, new tower roll-out, and preparations to deploy an additional 10.4 MHz spectrum, the company is positioned to meet people’s growing need for high-speed internet and support digital services uptake in rural and urban areas for its 80 million customers and beyond.

Banglalink (Bengali: বাংলালিংক), managed by internatl. VEON is the 2nd provider in the country. It has more than 31 million customers and a 26% market share serving all 64 districts by 2G and since 2014 by 3G too. They started in Dhakar in 2013 with 3G and cover at least all towns by now. 4G/LTE started in 2018 in Chittagong and Khulna & Now available across the country. 78% of Its BTS is 4G

According to last years Open Signal report  Banglalink registered the strongest performance among the four operators. 

Robi Axiata Limited, second-ranked operator behind Grameenphone and in front of Banglalink in user number terms. Robi Axiata started 4G/LTE in 2018 in all 64 district capitals of the country. 98% of Its BTS is 4G.

Robi Axiata has announced that it has deployed 4.5G technology across its entire network comprising 13,400 mobile sites. The company revealed that 4.5G services are currently operated in the 900MHz, 1800MHz and 2100MHz bands, with plans to deploy 2,500 additional sites by the end of 2021. As of February 2021, 70% of Robi’s active subscriber base was using data services, while 4.5G handset penetration stood at 50.6%. Robi also disclosed that 4.5G service users are now consuming around 6GB of data per month.

The government aims to launch 5G technology in 2023 and make the network available in every district headquarters by 2026. None of the operators are enthusiastic about 5G at the moment. According to Dhaka Tribune:

Mobile operators said that at least 70 per cent of the country needs to be penetrated with 4G connectivity before making the big jump to 5G. Besides, less than 30 per cent of the country's registered handsets are 4G compatible, so gearing for 5G at this point needs to be discussed extensively, they said. Currently, 4G is only available in the divisional cities, with fluctuating network quality and internet speed. Thinking about transitioning to 5G now would not be wise, said telecom industry insiders.

One of the primary reasons why both 3G and 4G services failed to take off in a big way commercially was the low penetration of compatible handsets when those technologies were rolled out in Bangladesh.

And in case of 5G, the handset penetration at less than 0.1 per cent is worse than the other two technology when the mobile operators were gearing up to roll them out, meaning there is not much of a business case for them to undertake the massive investment needed for the service.

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