The government is going to give a lifeline to Teletalk as the loss-making mobile carrier appears to be making a comeback by gaining customers through modernization, network expansion and the launch of 5G technology.
It may provide TK 2,140 million, as part of a project, to transport the state-owned 4G network to the villages and upgrade existing core and transmission networks to be ready for the launch of fifth-generation (5G) technology by 2023 .
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The total cost of the project is estimated at 2,200 million Tk. Teletalk will win $ 60.33 crore.
The project will be submitted to the regular weekly meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) for final approval today. The project will be completed by November 2023.
“Teletalk does not have a 4G network in the villages, so we want to move it to rural areas,” Shahab Uddin, Teletalk ‘s chief executive, told the Daily Star.
It has 4G services in all areas of Dhaka and Chattogram and in all headquarters in the area.
The operator will receive the financing on the basis of 20% of the equity and 80% of the loan. The interest rate will be set at the Ecnec meeting, he said.
Teletalk has 5,400 basic transceivers, which facilitate wireless communication between user equipment and network. Of these, 3,300 BTS have 4G connections. The number of BTS was around 3,000 in 2019.
The Grameenphone market leader has more than 16,000 BTS with 8.20 crore subscribers. Second place Robi Axiata has about 13,500 4G BTS, serving 5.18 crore subscribers and Banglalink has 9,500 4G BTS with 3.65 crore customers.
With 59.8 thousand customers since June, Teletalk holds 3.35 percent of the country’s 17.64 million mobile subscription base.
In February last year, however, Ecnec halted a 3,779.05 Tletalk trick project that had planned the construction of towers and a grid. The project was not approved as it was against the rules of telecommunications.
Shahab Uddin said Teletalk is expanding its network in remote areas at a faster pace, so its customer base is expanding to rural areas.
The provider has added more than 10,000 new customers this year.
“We look forward to increasing our customer base to one million by 2022,” he said.
The government plans to introduce 5G by 2023.
“We want to launch 5G at least on a trial basis by then, if not commercially,” said a senior Teletalk official.
However, industry people and experts say that Teletalk should focus exclusively on 4G expansion.
“If Teletalk focuses on improving 4G services, taxpayers’ money will be used properly,” said Abu Saeed Khan, a senior policy associate at LIRNEasia, a Columbus-based digital policy research organization.
“5G is still an immature technology. For developing countries like us, it has not had any significant application so far.”
He said the government is unnecessarily politicizing 5G as it has no business case. “This is not fair,” he said.
Teletalk is a unprofitable entity. His last amount for gains or losses was not available.
The operator last made a profit in 2013-14 and suffered losses over the next five financial years.
In its annual report for the financial year 2019-20, the Directorate of Posts and Telecommunications (PTD) did not provide data on income and expenses of Teletalk.
The main activities of the project are the creation of their own 500 BTS sites and 2,500 shared tower sites, the capacity building of the existing 2,000 BTS sites, the installation of 200 mobile BTS sites and the upgrading of the existing 1,000 2G and 3G 4G sites.