Bangladesh rolls out 5G

Bangladesh joins more than 60 other countries as it rolls out the fifth-generation (5G) of mobile internet connectivity today.

State-run mobile phone operator Teletalk will be the first to launch the super-speed technology, while the private operators are expected to jump on the bandwagon next year after the auction for spectrum in March.

Teletalk will introduce the updated service on an experimental basis in six areas: the Prime Minister’s Office, Parliament, Secretariat, Bangabandhu Museum on Dhanmondi 32, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s birthplace Tungipara in Gopalganj, and the National Martyrs’ Memorial in Savar, said its Managing Director Md Shahab Uddin yesterday.

So, Teletalk’s 65 lakh mobile phone subscribers will have to wait for more days as the operator is yet to get the clearance for its Tk 235 crore project to set up equipment at 200 points. Subscribers of the private mobile phone operators will have to wait until the spectrum auction.

The 5G technology promises to provide data speeds at least 20 times faster than 4G and underpins the great advances of the next era, from self-driving cars and augmented reality to smart cities and artificial intelligence, according to Reuters.

The technology is expected to bring higher-quality streaming and the ability to live stream to bigger audiences.

“5G is the highway for automation,” said Shahab.

The trial run of 5G will be inaugurated at a program at the Radisson hotel in Dhaka, according to an invitation of the telecommunication division.

But the launch comes at a time when Bangladesh is yet to benefit from its 3G and 4G technology deployments.

The reach of mobile networks has expanded with 95 percent of the population covered by 4G mobile broadband networks. Still, only 28 percent of the mobile phones are connected to 4G, while 25 percent use 3G and the rest 47 percent 2G, said the GSM Association, an industry organization that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide, in a report in March.

Bangladesh has 12.92 crore internet subscribers as of October. Of them, 11.91 crores access the internet through mobile phones and the rest through internet service providers.

“It was in the election manifesto of the government that it would launch 5G by 2021,” said Subrata Roy Maitra, vice-chairman of the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission.

He says 4G and 5G services are not the same. While 4G deals with connectivity, 5G’s application is industry-based. “So, the two should not be compared.”

The first 5G network was launched in April 2019 by South Korea and the US. Commercial 5G is now available in 1,336 cities across 61 countries, said Arizona-based VIAVI, which offers lab-based network test solutions, in June in its “The State of 5G” report.

Abu Saeed Khan, the senior policy fellow at LIRNEasia, a think-tank based in Colombo, says the introduction of the 5G service is primarily a political decision, not based on the market demand.

“Through this, the taxpayers’ money is being wasted. In the backdrop of poor 4G service, talking about 5G is nothing but a stunt.”

He says the penetration of smartphones in Bangladesh is not more than 35 percent. And as there is a shortage of 5G-enabled phones, there will be no service, he said.

“We don’t need 5G as per market demand. We need full 4G service.”

The market desperately needs a conducive policy pertaining to infrastructure sharing for a modest-quality of 4G services, the telecom expert said.

“Therefore, the government must overhaul the anti-broadband policy regarding optical fiber infrastructure. Infrastructure sharing should be mandatory.”

According to Khan, Teletalk is still a defaulter in terms of payment for the spectrum. So, it is utterly unethical to glorify the operator using taxpayers’ money for such a politicized farce of technology.

Teletalk Managing Director Shahab says the operator has urged the finance ministry to convert the spectrum fee into equity as the government is the owner of the spectrum.

Responding to the absence of smooth service for its subscribers, he says the number of towers, also known as base transceiver stations (BTS), of Teletalk is a third of Grameenphone’s. And, it could not invest to expand BTS for a lack of investment.

“The service will improve following an increase in investment.”

In March, the GSMA called for improving affordability by adopting appropriate policy and regulation in areas such as tax, subsidies, and business innovation to increase mobile internet adoption in Bangladesh.

It urged the government to equip individuals with digital knowledge and develop an ecosystem to produce content locally.