Bangladesh remains one of the poorest, most densely populated, least developed countries in the world; yet it has somehow managed to show considerable spirit in its approach to the development of its telecom sector. Bangladesh has discovered a way to grow the sector in spite of the odds. This nation of 165 million people, with its comparatively low GDP, has been involved in the creation of a very competitive mobile telephone market. Most noticeable has been the willingness of Bangladesh to encourage foreign participation in this endeavour. Following a number of years of strong growth, starting from a very low base, mobile telephone penetration was around 36% (or 60 million subscribers) by mid-2010.
The outstanding success of the mobile market, however, has been achieved in a Bangladesh that continues to struggle with its lowly economic status, its frequent natural disasters such cyclones and floods and the slow implementation of much-needed economic reforms. This state of affairs is reflected in the fixed-line segment of the local telecom market which remains stagnant with a teledensity of less than 1%, the lowest in South Asia. With almost 99% of homes lacking a telephone and with a substantial waiting list for fixed-line services, the country is still struggling with some of the most underdeveloped telecommunications infrastructure in the world. Interestingly, about 80% of Bangladesh’s 1.7 million fixed telephone services were to be found in its four main cities and most of these had been provided by the state-owned Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board.
So, it is with some fascination that the outsider observes what has been, and continues to be, a booming mobile market in Bangladesh. In the first half of 2009, there were signs that the growth rate was easing, but 12 months later it was still growing at an annual rate of close to 30%. The challenge for the operators is to maintain viable business models, given that ARPU has been rapidly falling as the telcos chase subscribers in the rural areas where 80% of the population lives in 86,000 villages. The booming mobile phone industry is estimated to have created nearly 250,000 jobs throughout the country.
Meanwhile the languishing fixed-line market struck a major setback in 2010 when the regulator shut down five of the country’s fixed-line operators over their alleged involvement in the handling of illegal VoIP traffic; this caused something in the vicinity of 700,000 fixed subscribers to be disconnected. The drama was continuing to be played out in mid-2010 with the operators challenging the regulator’s decision in the courts.
- Bangladesh’s mobile market passed 60 million subscribers by June 2010 with penetration running at 37%.
- This had been preceded by a significant three-year period in which the country saw mobile subscriber numbers more than treble as the market expanded rapidly.
- GrameenPhone was far and away the leading mobile operator, claiming close to 27 million subscribers, or 44% of the total mobile subscriber base, as at mid-2010, despite the best commercial efforts of its five competitors.
- Orascom was fastest growing mobile operator, its subscriber base lifting 46% in the 12 months to June 2010.
- Internet penetration remains low (0.4% user penetration by end-2009) and Internet subscription rates are considerably lower.
- Although broadband Internet services remain virtually non-existent in Bangladesh, following the granting of a number of WiMAX licences in 2008, there was considerable optimism that this is about to change as WiMAX networks were being rolled out.
- The fixed-line market was rocked in the first half of 2010 when the regulator shut down five operators and in the process an estimated 700,000 customers were disconnected. The regulator took the action as part of a major move against illegal VoIP services.
Bangladesh – key telecom parameters – 2009 – 2010
|Total number. of subscribers1||1.66 million||2.00 million|
|Annual growth (e)||24%||20%|
|Fixed-line penetration (population)||1.0%||1.2%|
|Fixed-line penetration (household)||4.7%||5.6%|
|Total number of subscribers2||250,000||300,000|
|Internet penetration (population)||0.1%||0.1%|
|Internet penetration (household)||0.6%||0.7%|
|Total number of subscribers||52.4 million||65.0 million|
|Mobile penetration (population)||32%||39%|
1Fixed-line estimates subject to resolution of dispute between regulator and operators over illegal VoIP traffic that has seen five operators shut down and the subscriber base substantially cut.
2Estimates for both 2008 and 2009.
For detailed information, table of contents and pricing see: Bangladesh – Telecoms, Mobile, Broadband and Forecasts
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