Tech giant Walton has received a provisional licence from the telecom watchdog to assemble mobile phones in Bangladesh, hence becoming the first company to bag the approval for making handsets locally.
Last month, Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) visited the factory of Walton in Gazipur and handed over the interim licence to the company recently, said a senior official of the commission.
The conglomerate has already started assembling different kinds of handsets in its hi-tech park and plans to market the products within a short time.
Local ICT service provider Aamra Holdings Ltd, which owns and markets WE branded handsets, is in the process of getting the provisional licence.
The company's senior officials will give a presentation before the regulator on Thursday to outline its plan and preparation, said the official.
Some other companies have also contacted the regulator and expressed their willingness to set up assembly plants but they have not applied officially, according to the official.
“This is a big shift in the mindset of handset vendors,” he said. The development comes after the telecom regulator published a guideline in August this year to encourage manufacturing and assembling of handsets in the country.
To encourage local assembly, the government has slashed customs duty for mobile parts by 24 percentage points to 1 percent in the current budget. Walton has also received permission from the regulator to assemble 51,000 3G-enabled smartphones in three models and has imported equipment for the sets, said a senior executive of the company.
Uday Hakim, a director of Walton, said the group has a full-fledged industrial park in Gazipur so it will not need to make a huge investment. However, the company has set aside Tk 100 crore for handset assembling.
Aamra Holdings plans to start test production of smartphones in its assembly plant in the capital's Mirpur in the first week of December.
The company plans to start commercial assembling from mid-December and exports from the plant will begin in the middle of next year, said AM Ehsan-ul Haque, chief operating officer of the smart solutions division at Aamra Holdings Ltd.
After the planned presentation on Thursday, the company expects to obtain a demand note from the BTRC. Then the ICT service provider will have to complete some formalities to get the licence, according to Haque.
Market leader Symphony and some other players are also looking for opportunities to establish assembly plants, said Ashraful Haque, director for marketing of Edison Group, the parent company of Symphony.
Last year, Bangladesh imported 3.1 crore units of handsets at Tk 8,000 crore, according to Bangladesh Mobile Phone Importers Association.
Besides, about 50 lakh handsets enter the country illegally every year, according to the telecom watchdog.
The government said the scope to set up manufacturing or assembly plants will provide local entrepreneurs the scope to invest in technology which will create jobs and open up export opportunities.