After years of waiting for the government to issue LTE licences, the three largest mobile operators in Bangladesh (Grameenphone, Robi Axiata and Banglalink) launched 4G service in parts of capital city Dhaka and other major cities.

The three operators, with a combined share of 96 per cent of the country’s 133 million mobile connections, each recently paid $1.2 million for a 4G licence.

Robi Axiata said in statement it already rolled out 4G service in parts of 64 districts. Market leader Grameenphone and Banglalink are focused on launching LTE service in Dhaka and some parts of Chittagong and Sylhet, The Daily Star reported.

Despite four mobile operators being cleared to participate in a spectrum auction on 13 February, only Grameenphone and Banglalink acquired 4G airwaves in the long-awaited LTE sale. The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) auctioned off 25MHz of spectrum in the 2.1GHz band; 18MHz in the 1.8GHz band; and 3.4MHz in the 900MHz band, but only about a third was sold.

Robi Axiata, the country’s second largest operator, reportedly did not participate as it considered its existing spectrum holding sufficient to offer 4G services.

In addition to acquiring 4G spectrum in two bands, Banglalink will pay $35 million to convert its existing spectrum holding in the 900MHz and 1.8MHz bands into technology neutral spectrum, which will allow it to double its 3G network capacity. Annalisa Di Chiara, Moody’s VP and senior credit officer, said in a research note this will position the operator for continued growth and improvements in its competitive position, particularly in light of the rising level of competition among the top three players.

Quality focus
At a Robi Axiata launch event on 20 February, BTRC chairman Shahjahan Mahmood said: “We have started our journey with 4G from today. BTRC is also thinking about 5G. Our main aim is to ensure that the subscribers get good quality of service.”

Robi Axiata MD and CEO Mahtab Uddin Ahmed said: “We are proud to launch the long-awaited 4G service in the country today. With a greater amount of spectrum compared to our competitors, we are ready to serve the best quality 4G service to our subscribers. We are confident that with government support, we will be able to complete the Digital Bangladesh vision by 2021 powered by the blistering speed of 4G service.”

To make 4G successful in Bangladesh, he said the government should consider reducing taxes on compatible devices, lowering the duty on equipment, introducing special incentives for rolling out service in rural areas, resolving all pending VAT disputes and move to a unified licensing regime like some neighbouring countries.