A mobile phone, indeed, is the most updated and handy electronic device to facilitate interpersonal communication. For many, irrespective of their profession, and particularly in certain crucial moments, mobile telecommunication service seems like an absolute blessing.
However, there are some negative side effects of the technology, when mishandled.
The management committee of Baitul Azim Shahidi Jama Mosque noticed one of the disadvantages of mobile phones: prayers were disturbed by loud ringtones while offering their prayers together.
Thus, the committee installed three mobile network jammers at three corners of the mosque five years ago.
"Offering prayers is like a meditation and it can be intercepted by a loud ringtone if the user forgets to silence the mobile phone before starting to pray. After the jammers were installed, devotees can say their prayers in peace [without interruptions]," said Mohammad Manjurul Islam, the muazzin of the mosque.
Network jammers weaken the uplink frequency of a wireless system by disrupting the wireless channels in the frequency band and preventing mobile phones from establishing contact to perform a voice or data service.
Sajedul Islam, a khadem of the Shahidi mosque, remembered purchasing the special devices from an electronics shop at Swimming Pool Market adjacent to Bangabandhu National Stadium Market, Dhaka.
According to a recent study, many prayer houses in and outside Dhaka have also installed network jammers to keep telecommunication services beyond reach at sacred places, especially during prayer times.
The same study reveals that there is another group of people, individually or collectively, who utilise advanced technology, GSM 2G/3G/4G repeater, to boost the voice and data service when it suffers from the effects of being at downlink frequency.
For several years, mobile operators have been demanding the removal of the illegal jammers and boosters, labelling the devices as one of the major causes behind call drops and slow internet speed.
In the survey, mobile operators found that there are 325 locations across the country – including 212 in Dhaka – where the mobile network is disrupted by such illegal devices. The survey was based on complaints by users, followed by a physical visit from the concerned mobile operators. The data was then collated by the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh (AMTOB).
Using both of the imported machines – jammers and boosters – is illegal in the country, according to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Act 2001.
For several years, shop owners at the Jabin Tower in Dhaka's Nawabpur were struggling with poor mobile networks.
In the last five years, the shop owners installed more than three network boosters or repeaters at different corners and floors of the building that houses at least 273 shops of hardware and machinery tools.
Still then, the market insiders have to step out of the building to make a phone call in case there is load-shedding. The network boosters run on electricity.
During a recent visit to Jabin Tower, Al-Arafah Belt House (primarily a shop of industrial automotive V-belt) owner Md Jahangir Alam, gave his cell phone number to this correspondent and requested to make a call to his number. His number was found unavailable as load-shedding incapacitated the booster near his shop.
"In the last few hours, three to four parties (business dealers) called me more than a hundred times but failed to reach me. When one of them knocked me on WhatsApp, I went out of the building and called him back. In absence of functional network boosters, we lose business. This is a challenging situation," Jahangir said.
Mohammad Pappu, an organiser of the Jabin Tower Shop Owners Association, complained that poor mobile network has been a headache for business establishments around the Old Dhaka localities including Nawabpur, Bangshal, Thathari Bazar, Chwak Mogaltuli and others.
"I am a platinum customer of Grameenphone. A few years ago, the mobile phone operating company installed a network booster here, as per my request. Sometimes, the machine becomes non-functional. However, the Grameenphone users face network disruption comparatively less, but the customers of other mobile operators hardly make or get phone calls. I think we need more boosters here," Pappu said.
Due to the poor voice and data service, neighbouring business enterprises have also installed network boosters. In particular, the Nawabpur area, City Machineries Market and Mollah Machineries Market have several network boosters, according to recent findings by the TBS team.
On 8 March this year, Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), following a request by mobile operator Banglalink, sent a letter to the Nawabpur Shop Owners' Association and seven other organisations at Nawabpur to remove network boosters from their possession.
"We have requested our members to hand over the unauthorised machines to us. However, we are going to apply for more mobile towers around the Nawabpur area. Unless there is a good mobile network, the business will be severely hampered," Delowar Hossain, Nawabpur Shop Owners' Association Office Secretary, told The Business Standard.
Following a TBS report based on the survey, BTRC has decided to intensify its drives to seize illegal jammers and boosters installed in Dhaka and other cities, according to BTRC Chairman Shyam Sunder Sikder.
In a short message sent to all mobile users, the BTRC requested people concerned to remove the unauthorised jammers, network boosters and repeaters.
The immediate impacts of the BTRC's stance have been found effective, at least in the markets of illegal jammers and network boosters.
A TBS team, under the disguise of potential buyers, recently visited the Swimming Pool Market and Bangabandhu Stadium Market. The team found that none of the sellers of electronic products entertained them.
"On 18 April, police seized jammers and network boosters from a shop here. For sure, you cannot find the products in the market while the drives go on," a shop owner at Swimming Pool Market, preferring anonymity, told the team.