The telecom regulator is set to organise an open auction by December for selling spectrum in three bands, which will ultimately be used for offering 4G services in the country.
The development comes after Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission yesterday received the government-approved guideline signed off by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who also heads the telecom ministry.
The mobile operators will roll out 4G services as soon as they get licences, said Shahjahan Mahmood, chairman of the regulatory body.
He is hopeful that by the end of this year mobile users can enjoy 4G services. TIM Nurul Kabir, secretary general of the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh, said they are expecting the government to take the issues raised by the mobile operators into cognisance.
“We want a win-win proposition, one that will ultimately help the industry and encourage investors to put more and more money in this field,” he added.
According to the approved guideline, the floor price for each megahertz of spectrum in the 2,100 band would be $27 million and $30 million in the 900 and 1,800 bands.
However, the mobile operators earlier proposed $15 million for each MHz in all three bands.
The spectrum conversion fee for technology neutrality in the existing 900 and 1,800 bands will also be brought down to $7.5 million per megahertz from $10 million.
Technology neutrality allows the operators to offer either of 2G, 3G or 4G services from any band as they see fit, a facility that helps in reducing the operational costs and improving the service quality.
At present, market leader Grameen-phone is using 14.6 MHz of spectrum in the 1,800 band and 7.4 MHz in the 900 band. Robi has a total of 26.4 MHz of spectrum, Banglalink 15 MHz and state-owned Teletalk 15.2 MHz in the two bands.
Earlier, Prime Minister's ICT Affairs Adviser Sajeeb Wazed Joy recommended slashing the licence fee and other charges along with loosening the other terms and conditions, all of which were accommodated in the approved guidelines.
The 4G licence fee will be brought down to Tk 10 crore from the BTRC's earlier proposal of Tk 15 crore and the annual fee to Tk 5 crore from Tk 7.5 crore.
According to the guideline, the operators will have to retain the mobile subscribers' usage data for 12 years.
The operators will have to pay Tk 150 crore to participate in each category of spectrum auction, reads the guideline.
They will also have to pay Tk 150 crore as bank performance guarantee for rollout obligation.
Under the rollout obligation, the operators will extend 4G services in all divisional headquarters within nine months of getting the licence.
They are also bound to roll out the service in the district headquarters within 18 months and all over the country within three years of acquiring the licence, according to the guideline.
The operators will share 5.5 percent gross revenue with the BTRC and another 1 percent for social obligation segment.
Currently, the 4G services are available in all the neighbouring countries.
As of February, there are more than seven crore mobile internet users in Bangladesh, 3.5 crore of which use 3G services.
The mobile operators said there is no way of getting back a “substantial” return of the Tk 22,600 crore they need to invest to roll out 4G services within the first three years.
And their estimate has not even taken into account the spectrum charge.
They say the high spectrum charges and tax and low 4G device penetration and data price rates are to blame for their depressing outlook.