ICT & Telecommunications Sector in Bangladesh

An Expert's View about IT and Telecommunications in Bangladesh

Posted on: 6 Feb 2013

Because of the political unrest in early 1990s,The introduction of the telecommunication industry has been pretty late in Bangladesh compared to that of the neighboring countries.

Wednesday, 09 Jan 2013 ICT & Telecommunications Sector in Bangladesh The introduction of the telecommunication industry has been pretty late in Bangladesh compared to that of the neighbouring countries. This is very much attributable to the political unrest in early 1990s. Market overview With the capital Dhaka ranking third in freelance IT and IT-enabled services (ITES) outsourcing globally, and with a consistent GDP growth rate of around 6% for the last few years in a world which has seen near-zero or negative growth, the country has reasons to be proud and confident. With over 90 million mobile phone users, 2.7 million Facebook users, 99% geographical coverage in voice and data connectivity (mostly through wireless networks), the country has attained initial readiness for service delivery using ICTs. The IT sub-sector in Bangladesh has the potential to become an attractive ICT outsourcing destination which would lead to a rise in export earnings as well as creation of employment. Though the first telecom company, Citycell, was introduced in 1989, as the only CDMA mobile operator in the country the device has not become so pervasive until 1997, the year when the biggest telecom of the country, GrameenPhone (GP) hit the market with its GSM technology. Since then the industry grew at such an incredible rate in just a decade that anyone could hardly imagine. Now there are a number of players battling so hard for their respective market share and the consumers as well as the economy benefitted tremendously from this fierce competition. Software and IT service industry in Bangladesh has come of age. The industry no more remains on the sideline. It has joined the mainstream globally. Not only the industry is contributing significantly to the national income, but also it has been playing very crucial role in creating high quality employment for a sizable portion of young graduates of the country. The enthusiasm and resilience of the young entrepreneurs are the main driving force of Bangladesh IT industry. According to survey done by the industry association BASIS, there are over 800 registered software and ITES (IT Enabled Service) companies in Bangladesh. There are another few hundred of unregistered small and home-based software and IT ventures doing business for both local and international markets. The total industry size is estimated to be around Tk. 1,800 crore (US$ 250 million). Software contributes around 44% to the overall industry revenue whereas ITES contributes around 56% to the overall industry revenue. Approximately 30,000 professionals, majority IT and other graduates, are employed in the industry. Though, compared to other traditional mainstream industry, the contribution for overall employment creation is not significantly high, but if considered in terms of creating high quality employment (average monthly compensation over Tk. 15,000 per month), software and IT service industry is surely one of the top graduate employment sectors in the country. One of the most encouraging recent trends in the industry is that, leveraging on recent positive changes like larger Internet user-base, better connectivity as well as introduction of new payment methods (online payment – through credit card and mobile payment), a good number of companies (around 45%; some dedicatedly and some along with their core software or IT service business) are focusing or diversifying on different web based services that include specialized portals, listing services, e-Commerce, e-Learning, payment intermediary services etc. A number of these ventures have done quite well in terms of popularity as well as financial viability. Of late, some companies are also developing web applications based on cloud/SaaS delivery model. These emerging new business and service delivery models might define the new wave in the coming years for Bangladesh IT industry. Communication in Bangladesh is based on Telephone, mobile communication, TV Broadcast, Radio, Internet etc. Currently there are 6 mobile operators in Bangladesh which are as follows: ξ Grameenphone – Joint venture ownership 62%Telenor and 38%Grameen Telecom. Brand position: (Best Network Coverage in the country - 98% pop coverage; perceived as the market leader and brand for the successful; nationalistic and conservative approach). ξ Banglalink – Joint venture with Orascom Telecom Co. originated from Egypt. Brand position: (Perceived as introducer of low tariff; brand is favored by the mass and low income youth; very aggressive, loud and colorful in their approach as a brand; recent focus on corporate and post-paid Icon) ξ Robi– Joint venture between Telecom Malaysia Berhad TM and A. K. Khan& company limited. Brand position: (Changeover from Aktel to Robi in 2010; rural and youth centric brand approach; very aggressive stance in market post changeover- leveraging international presence) ξ Warid Telecom/Airtel – An investment of Dubai and Abu Dhabi Group UAE. Brand position: (Last entrant in the market; strategically aggressive in capturing market; favorite brand amongst youngsters). ξ TeleTalk – Public limited company but 100% share have been owned by the government of Bangladesh. Brand position: (Only government owned operator; very nationalistic approach to brand; actively looking for foreign investment) ξ Citycell – Joint venture with SingTel Asia pacific investment Pvt. limited. Brand position: (Country’s only CDMA operator; primary business focus is on Data (Zoom) The total number of Mobile Phone subscribers has reached 94.714 million at the end of July 2012. The Mobile Phone subscribers are shown below: Operators Active Subscribers Grameen Phone Ltd. (GP) 39.556 Orascom Telecom Bangladesh Limited (Banglalink) 25.622 Robi Axiata Limited (Robi) 19.652 Airtel Bangladesh Limited (Airtel) 6.806 Pacific Bangladesh Telecom Limited (Citycell) 1.685 Teletalk Bangladesh Ltd. (Teletalk) 1.391 Total 94.714 *Subscribers in Millions **The above subscribers' numbers are declared by the mobile operators Key opportunities ICT Infrastructure There are two important ICT infrastructure areas which have emerged as viable investment area over last few years. With both public sector and private sector putting in high importance for last mile connectivity across the country and creating sustainable demand for data connectivity, particularly in non-metropolitan and rural areas, investment in ICT Infrastructure promises to be important for both local and international investment. In last few years, apart from cell phone operators, the data connectivity sector (Wi-Max, NDN etc.) has attracted US$ 300 million of which over 30% are from foreign sources such as the UK’s Augere Group. These investments are however long term in nature and there is a minimum investment size in most cases. Apart from connectivity, another infrastructure investment area is technology parks. In the last annual budget, the government announced 10 year tax Holiday for investment in this area. With the demand for office space for ICT companies growing rapidly (current need of office space is over 1 million square foot) and with no large scale IT or Software park in the country, this can be a good investment area for foreign investors. Government is also keen in PPP (public private partnership) model for such investment. Currently, there is no large scale data centre in private sector. With significant digitization taking place in both private and public sector as well as new technological trends of cloud computing being adopted, the commercial data centre business can be another ICT infrastructure investment area for foreign and NRB investors. Online and Mobile Content/Digital Media Bangladesh being one of the most populous countries in the world with a huge youth bulge has a vast market for digital content delivered over internet or mobile. The current number of Internet users is over 7 million while the number of mobile users is over 80 million. Most internet users are young and have moderate purchasing power. Though apparently there have not been many cases of successful monetizing on this user base to date because of the number as well as the natural growth, the Internet as a media is certainly going to catch up with the highly profitable ‘print’ and ‘electronic’ media in terms of advertisement and other monetizing business models. Mobile content is another big business opportunity. There are already a few mobile content and application development companies including few foreign funded ones. However, given that VAS (Value Added Service) is still only a small part of revenue collected from the huge mobile user base and mobile sets are becoming less costly but smarter, there is going to be significant commercial opportunity for innovative services in different areas like mobile entertainment, education, health etc. Regarding investment opportunity in digital media business, it can be noted that already few serious global internet/digital media investment funds have done preliminary research on Bangladesh and are considering Bangladesh as their next destination for venture investment. The best time of investment in such business is typically the early phase of investment which is not significant in size (often less than US$ 1 million). There are feasible entry (through partnership with local entrepreneur or acquisition of start-up) and exit options for early investors. Call Centres More than 100 Universities, colleges and institutes provide ICT related degrees and produce more than 5.500 graduates annually. The Bangladesh Government and the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS) are actively promoting the ICT sector as a career through awareness building, practical education for new graduates and paid internships, and training programs for mid-career employees to excel their skills. For call centres, Bangladesh is considered as an interesting location. The parts of the population with good education speak English well and the workforce is increasingly service minded. Electronic Payment Service Cash transaction is still the predominant financial transaction method for majority of the population. Cash based transaction is always costly and time-consuming; hence there is a natural demand for more effective transaction service. In recent past, there have been some very important developments with regard to both financial transaction regulation (mobile payment, digital wallet, smart card) and transaction infrastructure (e.g. EFT, payment gateway etc.). This has created interesting business avenues for financial institutes and other entrepreneurs to offer electronic/mobile payment processing services to the unbanked population. Investment areas for non bank entrepreneurs can be solution development and operation for payment intermediary services (in BOO model), direct service delivery model partnering with banks, development of value added financial application etc. This area of electronic payment processing service has already attracted local and foreign investment. In the last couple of years, at least US$10 million investment has been made in this business The creation of the Bangladesh Electronic Funds Transfer Network is the most critical component in the development of a modern payments system infrastructure. Bangladesh Bank in partnership with the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID) embarked on a project in 2010 to modernize Bangladesh’s national payments system. The project is multifaceted and its primary objective was to increase and improve the delivery of workers’ remittances. The effort is known as the Remittance and Payments Partnership (RPP). Over the past two years significant progress has been made in achieving the goals of the initiative. The RPP project has two major payment system components consisting of the creation of an inter‐bank electronic funds transfer system which has been named the Bangladesh Electronic Funds Transfer Network (BEFTN) and the automation of the existing paper cheque clearing system which is known as the Bangladesh Automated Cheque Processing System (BACPS). Large-scale Offshore BPO Operation Powered by a very large young population, a significant portion of which has at least High School level of education, Bangladesh offers one of the best cost propositions in the world for large scale BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) and ITES (IT-Enabled Services), particularly for low end services like data entry, graphic design, image processing, special type of call centre operations etc. Traditionally, such services have been done in countries like India and China where cost in recent years have risen significantly. In the last decade, Bangladesh could not avail these opportunities mainly because of connectivity problems (no Internet redundancy and high cost). NovoCom, a Bangladeshi company, connected Bangladesh with Indian telecommunication companies Tata and Airtel, using terrestrial optical fibre cable as an alternative of the submarine cable on 8th December 2012. Bangladesh depended only on one submarine cable for telecommunication. When the cable needed repair, an often-needed procedure, there had been no other ways to communicate earlier. As the new connection has been created using terrestrial cable, disruption in submarine cable service will not hamper service anymore. Therefore, the connectively issues have now been somewhat solved largely by alternative connectivity and it has brought down the cost of Internet significantly. Now captive BPO and other ITES operation can be more commercially feasible. Average BPO/ITES worker costs less than USD 150 at Dhaka while the cost for similar person is almost double in major metropolitan cities in India or China. The rent and other overhead cost for such operation is also lower in Dhaka. In last few years, a number of offshore captive BPO/ITES services (for North America and Europe market) were established either by joint venture or 100% new investment. The Telecommunications Sector: many foreign investors are now interested to do business in the telecom sector in Bangladesh which reveals that Bangladesh has become a significant hub for telecoms. The average revenue from telecoms sector will be more than USD 183 million a year. Bangladesh is a country which is densely populated and also is a flat and easily extends able coverage. The infrastructure and Tele-density is low which on the other hand made the market a perfect place for telecom business. The demand is very high and the consumer base is very large but the investment is low because of the topographic layout. The government has a receptive foreign investment policy with no restrictions on repatriation of profit. Even though the current infrastructure is not much developed - it is suitable for foreign investment. WiMax: Bangladesh has a huge potential in WiMax and submarine cable which is a new technology in the country and has attracted the foreign telecom operators. Many foreign telecom operators are coming to Bangladesh to explore the potentiality of the technology. Some interested international telecom operators who want to start a business in Bangladesh are UK-based Orange Telecom, South Korean SK Telecom and UAE’s Etisalat. The government is encouraging private sector to invest more in the industry as they think that the industry is playing a vital role in developing the socioeconomic structure of the country. Mobile Applications: The mobile telecom world in recent times has observed a massive change in the telecom industry. The focus of the industry in recent years has unanimously shifted from building subscriber base to building a successful mobile app store as competition among the players heat up. However, building a strong subscriber base initially mattered a lot for the operators in that nascent industry. As the industry becomes saturated, point of differences among the players gradually dissipates and the number of subscribers increases at a decreasing rate. Now it's all about the mobile applications. This is an emerging phenomenon that has turned out to be a $6 billion business following the Apple's launch of Apple App Store and has affected almost everyone involved in the business, ranging from app developers, and mobile phone manufacturers to the operators. This offers a complete new stream of revenues not only to the carriers but also to the developers as well as phone makers, which is yet to be exploited to its fullest extent here. Contract Cell phones: This is nothing new to the world telecom arena. In the Western countries, contract cell phone is a significant business model. This trend can emerge in our country also as in major urban cities like Dhaka and Chittagong there is a sizable population, especially young adults, who are very much attracted to the high-end mobile phone handsets. For them, getting a high-end set for such a low price would be a very lucrative option. This trend also assumes a greater impact on b2b implications in the sense that it brings the mobile manufacturers, the operators and the end-users to the same platform and as a result the success or failure becomes inter-dependent on each other. ξ The Emergence of 3G: Bangladesh entered the 3G era on October 2012 putting telecom growth in the fast track. The state-run telecom company ‘Teletalk’ initiated the new technology with 0.3 million users, with plans to further expand the technology country wide. Being the state-run operator, TeleTalk was given the opportunity to launch 3G experimentally before other operators. Bangladesh's private operators Grameenphone, Banglalink, Citycell, Airtel and Robi, foreign companies will also be able to take part in the 3G auction. By mid 2013, various other private telecom operators would also be permitted to offer 3G connections. Latest export opportunities – ICT Latest export opportunities - Bangladesh Getting into the market The Telecommunications Division of the posts and telecommunications ministry (MoPT) is likely to be merged with the newly formed Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). According to telecom experts in Bangladesh, mobile communication is the key role player in ICT development, especially when the world is moving forward with mobile broadband connectivity. But telecommunications could not be incorporated in the ICT Policy 2009 as it was under another ministry. So now, this move is being made so that the telecommunications sector and the ICT sector come under a common umbrella. However, there are objections from various stakeholders that the present government formulated the BTRC (the independent regulatory body for telecom industry) but now it is going to share its power with the telecom ministry, which could question the efforts for ensuring a level playing field. If this bill gets through, the regulator will be able to impose fine for any kind of activities by treating as wrong doings. Even for sending a wrong SMS, anyone can be penalized by the regulator. The proposed bill contains 21 sections describing penalties of telecom and ICT operators for different offenses. Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has the exclusive authority to issue telecom services license. For issuing these licenses, the LL Division frames the guidelines as per direction of the Commission. The draft Guidelines are placed before the Commission after being examined by the senior officers. After being satisfied the Commission directs the LL Division to host it in the website of BTRC for taking comments from the stakeholders and general public. All the comments received are examined and relevant suggestions are incorporated in the guidelines. These guidelines with the concerned license format are placed before the Commission for decision. When the Commission approves the guidelines, the invitation of proposal for awarding license is floated through advertisement. For more information please visit: www.btrc.gov.bd/ It may be easier to set up IT companies in Bangladesh than other types of companies. The reason is that there is not much transport of goods across borders, raw materials to import or cumbersome work getting goods out of the customs. When the business is established and properly registered, and the trade licence is obtained, the business is running without too much interaction with government bodies. However, when a contract is signed with an overseas customer, the local company need to obtain an Export Registration Certificate (ERC). The ERC must be made for each order. When the remittance (money transfer) arrive in the company’s bank, the company will have to present the ERC, as well as a work order invoice, the registration certificate of the company and Form C; Declaration of remittance to the Central Bank. When this paperwork is through, your bank will transfer the money in local currency to your local currency account. A company in the export business will be granted to keep 40% of the remittance in foreign currency and it will be deposited in the company’s foreign currency account. Nevertheless, some policy recommendations that can be adopted are: ξ Formulation of a universal access policy and broad band policy to ensure equity in ICT-based growth and development. Details of the relevant rules such as the Patent Law, Secrecy Act, Foreign Exchange Regulation Act and Income Tax Act should be taken into consideration while implementing the policy to avoid any infringement of rights or violation of existing rules. ξ There is a critical need for skill training (including training in the English Language) for the existing and potential workforce of this sector. Training courses should be upgraded to reflect advanced technology. This can have positive effects on employment as well as profiting IT businesses. Fiscal and financial incentives for attracting local investments and FDI in ICT through the (Public Private Partnership) PPP.
Posted: 06 February 2013

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