The mobile operators' revenue from data services is spiralling by the day, as people are using mobile devices to complete more tasks now compared to anytime before.
Bangladesh's top three telecom operators' revenue from data services grew 58.66 percent year-on-year to Tk 4,149 crore last year, which is over 17 percent of their total earnings in the period.
In 2016, data services fetched 12.50 percent of their gross revenue, up from 8.32 percent in 2015 and 5 percent in 2014.
The figures came from annual financial reports of Grameenphone, Robi and Banglalink, which hold a market share of around 97 percent.
The operators estimate that data revenue would overtake voice revenue within a few years.
TIM Nurul Kabir, secretary general of the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh (AMTOB), said data consumption has just started growing and the operators will be able to achieve three-digit growth in the years to come with the help of 4G.
The top operators launched 4G data service last month.
Kabir said data has been playing a key role in generating revenue all around the globe and Bangladesh would be no stranger.
Last year, the number of mobile internet connections increased 19.68 percent year-on-year to 7.50 crore whereas the number of active internet connections, including that of internet service providers and wimax, was 8.08 crore.
Telecom services are experiencing a new trend riding on data and the internet will replace traditional services, said Shahjahan Mahmood, chairman of Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission.
“In new trends, customers are using more data than voice and they will get better services now in 4G,” said Mahmood.
So the data usage volume will definitely increase in the coming days, which will give a boost to the country's digitalisation, he added.
“Once 4G services' coverage spreads, things will change with pace,” said Mahmood.
The industry insiders said data service emerged as a solid revenue generator following the launch of the high-speed 3G network in the second half of 2013.
In the digital world, customers will use smartphones for everyday chores, be it shopping or reading books and newspapers, listening to music or watching movies, said Kabir.
“Definitely internet data will replace lots of regular businesses, television will be replaced by internet devices and we are very close to that mark,” Kabir added.
Voice business will certainly not die out but will decrease as people will go on to adopt alternative communications applications, he added. He laid emphasis on the availability of mobile devices and requested the government to take steps to encourage the use of 4G-enabled handsets.
Very high tax is now imposed on smartphones, which is a bottleneck, he said.
So the AMTOB has requested the government to reduce some of the taxes, which will ultimately help get more revenue from the usage of data and other services, Kabir said.
Last year, market leader Grameenphone's revenue from data rose 51.39 percent year-on-year to Tk 2,180 crore, even though only 2.31 crore of its customers were using 3G services as of December 2017.
According to the BTRC, it had 6.53 crore active SIMs at that time, 98.50 lakh of which were availing 2G.
Meanwhile Robi's data revenue nearly doubled to Tk 1,339 crore, thanks to the inclusion of Airtel's revenue following a merger at the end of 2016.
Robi had 4.29 crore connections at the end of December with 1.58 crore using 3G and 84 lakh 2G. Banglalink earned Tk 630 crore or 13 percent of its total revenue from data services last year. In 2016, it was 10 percent.
Erik Aas, CEO of the third largest operator Banglalink, has recently told The Daily Star that they had serious quality issues last year which impacted revenue growth.
However, the operator has made a remarkable advancement in ensuring better customer experience, as it started upgrading its network capacity in February.
As of December, Banglalink had 3.24 crore active connections with 94.63 lakh using 3G and 74.6 lakh 2G.
Both Grameenphone and Banglalink purchased spectrum a few weeks ago which, their officials said, would help them to improve network quality and become more data-centric operators.
The merger of Robi and Airtel left it with a lot of spectrum, which will help them meet the future data demands of the customers.
Grameenphone's customers are now using 807 megabyte of data on an average per month, up from 632 MB at the end of 2016 while for Banglalink the figures are 580 MB and 391 MB.
Robi did not mention its customers' data usage volume in the annual report.