FWA Service

3 mobile operators wait to enter market of Tk 100bn

Internet service providers concerned about survival in competition

Arfin Soriyat

Bonik Barta photo

Three mobile operators of the country have recently obtained licenses to provide fixed wireless access (FWA) service. With this, Grameenphone, Robi and Banglalink are going to enter the market of internet service providers (ISP) worth Tk 100 billion. Till now, ISPs have been running the show. However, the inclusion of the mobile operators has made the ISPs worried, as it will be difficult for them to survive the competition with the mobile operators that are way more stronger in terms of capacity.        

Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) provided FWA license to three mobile operators in February. At present, this service can only be provided by ISPs through cable connection. With the inclusion of the mobile operators now, broadband internet business will see a change.

According to BTRC statistics, there are 2,897 licensed ISP operators in the country. Of them, there are 118 at national level, 341 at divisional level, 149 at district level and 2,289 operators at upazila or thana level. Besides, about 3,000 entities conduct illegal internet business across the country.

Internet Service Providers Association of Bangladesh (ISPAB) say that the annual income of its members stands at Tk 100 billion. More than 3,000 businesses are run by providing internet service. Most of them have small and medium investment. And, 500,000 to 600,000 people are employed in these businesses.       

As per ISPAB, the annual turnover of top ten ISP providers is nearly Tk 10 billion. These ten companies invested in the market hugely. The annual income 300 mid-level operators stands at Tk 54 billion. The income at upazila/Thana and district levels is over Tk 30 billion. Besides, more than 3000 illegal operators earn Tk 10 billion annually.

ISPAB President Emdadul Hoque fears that mobile operators will take away at least 40-50 percent of the FWA market. “ISP operators are currently going through a distressing time. The operators have to import 90 percent of the equipment. The import cost has gone up significantly due to inflation, devaluation of taka against dollar and world economic instability. And now, our businesses are being harmed through FWA service. Many of us will be out of business,” he said.

“Some 25-40 percent of our market will be affected. If the foreign operators capture the market, the local entrepreneurs will not be able to survive the competition,” he added.         

BTRC has recently published a licensing guideline for the country’s telecom operators. Fourteen types of services are mentioned in guideline titled ‘Regulatory and Licensing Guideline for Cellular Mobile Service in Bangladesh’. FWA is one of the services through which telecom operators can provide high-speed internet in a particular place.

Cellphone operators argue that broadband operators will not be harmed by the FWA service. They provide service through cable connection while FWA service is wireless. Consumers will accept the best services. ISP providers will have to offer new services to keep customers.      

About issuing licenses to mobile operators to provide FWA service, Professor Dr BM Mainul Hossain, director of Institute of Information Technology at Dhaka University, said, “Several hundreds of thousands of people are employed at about 3,000 ISP operators across the country. This will have to be taken into consideration. This is a competitive market. They will have to survive by providing satisfactory service. And, it is not that mobile operators will always be able to provide the desired service. In some places, ISPs are the only solution.”

“ISPs must be innovative. We should think if ISPs will only provide internet service or they will deliver contents as well. An environment should be created in which everyone can run their businesses providing quality service. And, it is the responsibility of BTRC to ensure that,” he added.

BTRC Commissioner Sheikh Reaz Ahmed said, “We have given the telecom operators the opportunity to offer FWA service. But, it does not mean that we have interrupted the service provided by ISPs. BTRC always believes in creating an ecosystem. There will be competition in the market and everyone will run their business in their way. Although it looks same, Wi-Fi service and FWA service by the mobile operators are different in nature.”

“ISP operators must work in the modernization of technologies to survive in the competition,” he observed.

Bonik Barta sent emails to media departments of Grameenphone, Robi and Banglalink for their comments in this regard, but their replies were not received as of filing the report on Friday night.

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