Ricky Steyn, country managing director (CMD) at edotco Bangladesh Co Ltd, a telecommunication infrastructure company that provides end-to-end solutions in the tower services sector, took charge in January 2020 and entered the South Asian country for the first time. Before that he worked in Myanmar for four years.
In an exclusive interview with The Business Standard, Ricky Steyn shared his experience of working at the largest tower company in Bangladesh, the industry ecosystem and beyond.
He said misconceptions among people regarding radio equipment and finding the lawful owners of properties are the major challenges for setting up new towers in Bangladesh.
"Creating mass awareness on radio equipment and its safety features will give us access to more locations," Ricky said, adding that this is where government assistance is needed to educate the public.
"There is no risk of radiation from the radio equipment we use," he said.
Fixing locations and signing land leases in densely populated urban areas for new sites is another big challenge for the tower companies, Ricky said.
"Finding the legitimate landlord to sign a lease agreement is often difficult due to previous transference of ownerships. Besides, some of the chosen locations are owned by the government or other influential people which makes the process much more complex, he said.
"Making contact with the right authority for a land and negotiating a lease could take over two years in some cases," he added.
Because of these reasons mobile operators are being obstructed in some urban areas, including the capital, from rolling out new network sites that impact their quality of services.
Ricky Steyn said, "If we want to initiate the 5G network then we need combined effort by the industry stakeholders and the government in adopting a more agile approach to fast track the land lease agreement process."
Talking about edotco's role as a tower company to boost the quality of telecommunication service, the CMD said edotco strives to deliver the highest Quality of Service (QoS) to our customers.
For us, ensuring the quality of service ranges into several categories: technology-driven investment, strategic deployment of our resources, and digitizing and automating our operations.
Elaborating the categories, he said when edotco builds new sites or replaces legacy equipment, it utilizes state of the art technologies, which helps extend the life span of the assets and provides a much better quality of service to the network.
"For example, edotco was the very first tower company in the region to adopt lithium-ion battery technology that helped us increase the quality of services and the lifecycle of our assets," he added.
Based on Bangladesh's landscape and the locations of network sites, edotco has divided the entire country into strategic and accessible hubs and placed its resources across the country for delivering quick responses in times of urgency.
This compartmentalisation approach has enabled edotco to be agile and nimble in its response to customers' needs, he said.
"For digitizing and automating the operations- we have deployed additional hardware to our sites such as a Remote Monitoring System (RMS) which has allowed us to effectively monitor the sites' performance and yield data that help us to predict future glitches," the edotco boss said.
There are four TowerCo operators in the country that were given licenses in 2018. TowerCo and mobile network operators (MNOs) own 39,000 towers across the country. Of the total, edotco has 34% market share.
The largest TowerCo edotco Bangladesh's chief Ricky said, "As per the TowerCo licensing guidelines, mobile network operators (MNOs) are supposed to allow the licensed tower companies to either buy or lease their towers by November 2023.
But this rollback process is going very slow, he said.
Although there are positive signs that MNOs are working toward either selling their towers or engaging with TowerCo's for lease, he further added.
Sharing his experience on the business environment of the market under the current regulator, Ricky Steyn said that the tower sharing market is heavily regulated despite being formulated only four years ago.
"It is important to highlight that global tower markets are not heavily regulated. You can consider Malaysia, Mexico, and Indonesia markets as well-suited examples," he said.
The country has already started a test run of 5G network technology and the mobile operators have secured additional spectrum as part of their preparedness for the implementation of the technology.
Being a stakeholder in the industry, elaborating its preparedness in materializing the advanced technology, edotco's CMD said that the 5G rollout will manifest in a greater proliferation of fiberised sites and small cells.
In addition, the accelerated speed of the rollout is likely to be a significant factor to define the role of tower companies, he said.
"We are taking digital analytics quite seriously now as a part of our readiness for 5G. We formed a Digital and Automation Excellence Center as like we formed the Centre of Design Excellence to bring innovative, advanced, and sustainable tower design solutions," he said.
To ensure the towers' readiness from day one, edotco also utilizes Network Analytics Planning Tools (NAPA), an award-winning tool that can analyze various data received from customers, vendors, and websites.
There are three other tower companies in the country and Ricky also differentiated edotco from them.
He said, "First of all, I would like to mention our customer experience. edotco Group is now the sixth-largest tower Company in the world and we have been operating for quite a long period, which has given us a better understanding of meeting customers' expectations."
Besides, edotco has a very experienced, qualified, and skilled manpower with global knowledge, which is another strong reason to choose the company over others, the CMD said.
Moreover, edotco builds telecom infrastructure that is ready for operation from day one which increases the speed of network deployment and customers' access to towers, he said.