Will mobile phone service improve now?
Last week, Grameenphone and Robi were involved in an intense battle to buy five megahertz of spectrum in 2100 band during an auction.
The top two operators were particularly keen on getting the spectrum as they were the last block of the unused spectrum in the band.
The country also sold all of its wavelengths in the 1800 band. So, the two operators went to great lengths to post record bids as they needed the spectrum as they look to improve service quality amid surging subscribers.
Market leader Grameenphone had the last laugh at the end of the day. It bought the five MHz. On the day, it purchased a total of 0.4 MHz in 1800 band and 10 MHz in 2100 band at a combined price of $378.75 million.
Robi, the second-largest operator, took home 2.6 MHz and 5 MHz in the two bands, respectively. It will have to pay $225.6 million.
Banglalink took 4.4 MHz in 1800 band and 5 MHz in 2100 band for $281 million.
The government is set to receive more than $885 million from the operators by selling a total of 27.4 MHz of spectrum in the first auction since 2018.
Operators will pay 25 per cent of the spectrum price by March 23. The rest will be paid in instalments over a period of five years, meaning 15 per cent per year.
Because of the latest auction, GP now has 47.4 MHz of spectrum, Robi 44, Banglalink 40, and Teletalk 25.2 MHz.
GP hopes that the new spectrum will help it improve customer service. It will not pass on the cost to customers.
Robi says the quality of voice and internet service will be further enhanced through the use of the additional spectrum.
Abu Saeed Khan, a senior research fellow at LIRNEasia, a digital policy research organisation based in Colombo, is sceptical about any major improvement in service quality.
"The new allocation of spectrum will bring some short-term improvements to telecom services, but not long-term benefits. In order to bring long-term benefits, the government needs to improve the optical fibre infrastructure."
Khan said the connection with the new spectrum from the base transceiver station to customers would improve to some extent. But the service emanating from the main network would not go properly to the base station due to a lack of optical fibre infrastructure.
The network needs state-of-the-art infrastructures from start to finish if it wants a sustainable solution.
An official of the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) said that even if the spectrum was availed at the cost of a huge amount of money, customers should not worry about it.
"We have rules. We do round-the-clock monitoring. We take actions when people make a complaint. So, it will not be the case that the additional money needed for buying the spectrum will be mobilised from the customers. We will see what we can do," the official said.
Towers are being set up in remote areas after a gap of more than two years.
"Now, new spectrum has been allocated. As a result, there will be many benefits in the days to come," the BTRC official said.
Grameenphone said it was committed to maximising customer service quality.
Jens Baker, acting chief executive officer and chief financial officer of GP, said: "This spectrum will enable us to further contribute to the Digital Bangladesh initiative and meet the growing high-speed internet demand of customers in urban and remote areas.''
"As the largest operator, we will continue to work to improve the quality of 4G users' experience and service through the additional spectrum. GP is working tirelessly to ensure extensive 4G coverage through the highest number of 4G sites."
Robi's Chief Corporate and Regulatory Officer Shahed Alam expressed satisfaction as it was able to purchase the required spectrum as per its target from the latest auction.
"For strategic reasons, we had wanted to take another 5 MHz."
Had the second-largest operator had gotten the additional spectrum, the cost of building network infrastructure would have been lower and strengthened the network further, he said.
"At the same time, we would have been able to ensure faster internet service for our customers than expected. Even then, the spectrum we bought in the two bands of 1800 and 2100 MHz will definitely help in increasing the quality of service," Alam said in a statement.
However, mobile operators need more spectrum to improve the quality of services at the expected level of customers.
Experts say service quality can be ensured if the overall telecommunication ecosystem improves, including the increase in the use of optical fibre and 4G devices. Radio frequency in the new bands has to be allocated.
The newly acquired spectrum will help Banglalink retain the top position among all private operators in Bangladesh regarding the amount of spectrum provided per subscriber.
Erik Aas, CEO of Banglalink, said, "Banglalink's acquisition of the additional spectrum is yet another landmark in our endeavour to serve our customers as a digital service provider."
"Weare maintaining impressive performances and have made significant improvements in key indicators such as the market share, data revenue and data customer base."
The spectrum will help Banglalink capitalise on its success and increase customer satisfaction further, he said.
At present, Banglalink is serving 3.59 crore customers with 30.6 MHz spectrum. It bought 9.4 MHz spectrum on Monday. Now, the number of subscribers per MHz will decrease from 12 lakh to about 9 lakh.
On the back of 37 MHz spectrum, GP is currently providing services to 8.3 crore customers, meaning it has around 22 lakh customers per MHz.
If 10.4 MHz spectrum is added, the amount of Grameenphone's spectrum will stand at 47.4 MHz. Then, the number of subscribers per MHz will be around 17 lakh.
For Robi, the number of subscribers per MHz will come down from 14 lakh to 12 lakh, thanks to the new spectrum. It has 5.15 crore subscribers.