Teletalk launched 5G service at six sites on a trial basis on Sunday, which should be good news. However, reality has a different story to tell.
The 5th generation mobile network is imperative in facilitating a revolutionary standard in wireless mobile technology. It promises to connect people with their devices and machines better than ever.
Surely, it is the next step toward digitising Bangladesh, further developing the country's booming MFS sector and industrial automation and furthering the scope for online education.
However, it is important to ask and also address the elephant in the soon-to-be middle-income room, do we have the capacity to incorporate the technology?
And more importantly, why is Teletalk launching a test run for 5G? This raises a lot of questions because the state-owned company not only failed to provide 4G services to its customer base but they are gearing for and already implementing a project which raises doubt for its success.
The limitations and ground reality
Telecom industry experts have said the country does not have the infrastructure required for 5G technology. "The fundamental element for 5G infrastructure is a ubiquitous optical fibre network. And we do not have it," said Abu Saeed Khan, a senior policy fellow at LIRNEasia.
5G technology is a crucial part for economic advancements. According to the telecom and ICT expert, while the scope for automation remains vast, it can only be done if the services are made appropriate for them, meaning the industry also has to have the need to go for an automated process.
Khan also said that we do have the scope for industrial automation, which 5G technology can enable. "If we look at industries such as textiles or the garments sector, the scope is vast. The two seaports that we have at Chittagong and Mongla, both can be automated for container handling and clearances," he said, "But in order to do that, those agencies also have to have the organisational capability to run the automated operations."
It is not just the lack of infrastructure but also the policies in place that hinders telecom companies from rolling out 5G technology. "For instance, you open a restaurant, you will require a trade license for it. But if the government compels you to obtain a license for each item on the menu, then that is a problem," said Khan.
The fragmentation in the telecom industry needs to be addressed and consolidated. Mobile phone operators need to have the liberty to roll out any and every infrastructure which is required for 5G technology, and they should be compelled to share it, according to Khan.
"There is no point in duplicating optical fibre networks. GrameenPhone, Banglalink, Robi etc should share it," Khan added.
5G technology means massive infrastructure overhaul - from cloud computing to H computing and beyond. However, the reality reeks of severe lackings, and more importantly, there is a void of these discussions and policies, Khan further added.
"This is simply a political stunt [on behalf of the government]" said Khan, "A way to glorify a politically-driven technological service rolled out by a telecom company which has pathetically failed to even launch 4G."
Sumon Ahmed Sabir, the Chief Technology Officer of Fiber@home Limited, seemed more optimistic. He said "It is inevitable that we will move to 5G. This undertaking lacks investment but with adequate investment and service support, we will be able to have this technology in the country."
Regarding Teletalk's test run launch, the location sites - Tungipara, National Martyrs' Memorial, Bangladesh Secretariat, Prime Minister's Office, Dhanmondi-13, and Sher-e-Bangla Nagar - also raise questions.
"There is no application of 5G technology in the target sites selected, for instance Tungipara," said Abu Sayeed Khan.
"There is no particular reason behind the location site selection," said BTRC Vice President Subrata Kumar Roy. "We have done a feasibility study which gave overall positive results and we have reason to believe that we have the infrastructure for this test run."
According to the Vice President, this initiative to launch the test run is a testament to the government's intention to bring 5G technology to the country. "We want to compete at the global scale, and this move is crucial for it."
But the root problems remain at bay and unaddressed, as Abu Saeed Khan reiterated. The government has to fix its anti-broadband optical fibre deployment policy, regardless of whether it is 4G or 5G technology.
Otherwise, all these endeavours are set to fail.