Axiata-owned Robi and Teletalk, one of Bangladesh’s smallest mobile operators, agreed to share mobile network sites across the country to enable them to quickly expand 3G coverage and prepare for the launch of 4G.

The companies said in a statement the deal will help them speed up the rollout of their 4G networks once LTE licences are awarded.

Bangladesh’s long-awaited 4G spectrum auction, previously pushed to December 2017, is now scheduled to be held in February. The regulator is selling spectrum in the 900MHz, 1.8GHz bands and 2.1GHz bands.

Robi, Teletalk, market leader Grameenphone and third ranked Banglalink are expected to participate in the sale.

State-owned Teletalk owes the government BDT20 billion ($240 million), which makes it ineligible to bid in the auction until it pays the outstanding fees. The operator accumulated the debt from it not paying the telecoms regulator a revenue-sharing fee for its 3G services or contributing to a social obligation fund.

The government is trying to find a way to make Teletalk eligible, as it wants four players to bid in order to maximise revenue from the spectrum auction, The Daily Star reported.

A representative from the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission told the newspaper collecting fees from Teletalk “is nothing but a formality. If the government gives Teletalk the money, Teletalk will forward it to BTRC, who, in turn, will give it back to the government.”

Kazi Md Golam Quddus, Teletalk’s MD, is optimistic it will obtain a 4G licence, noting: “As a state-owned company, the government will provide BTRC the guarantee that it needs”, The Daily Star said.

Robi is the second largest mobile player in the country with a 28 per cent market share. Teletalk counts just 4 million mobile connections, giving it nearly a 3 per cent share, end-December data from GSMA Intelligence showed.