Grameenphone recently celebrated its 25 years in Bangladesh. It is a story to be proud of, a story of how telecom technology was made available to people from all walks of life. This has played a pivotal role in transforming Bangladesh and its people. It is a story that has motivated us at Grameenphone and our shareholders to uphold high investments in the company and modernise the network.
Today, Grameenphone is the choice telecom for over half of the population in the country, and millions of Bangladeshis rely on Grameenphone for their growing digital connectivity needs. To cater to the demands of a rapidly developing Bangladesh and new emerging technologies, Grameenphone has continued investing in providing quality services demanded by our customers.
Since 29 June this year, however, we have been subject to an embargo on our sales of any new connections through an open-ended regulatory directive. The reason given is the call drop issues in our network. The immediate result of this ban is that we can no longer provide essential connectivity and Grameenphone's sought-after services to new or returning customers who request access to communicate through our nationwide network. Grameenphone has the most comprehensive and strongest network coverage in the country and in many parts of the country, people will ultimately be deprived of digital connectivity and related improvements in their lives.
Because of evolving and ever-changing technology, there are some experience issues, especially in the capital and some divisional cities. At the same time, these issues reach beyond the control of any single operator - the final network experience is the outcome of teamwork in different ecosystem players, namely the fibre company, tower company, mobile network operator and the regulator itself. Together, the industry faces prevailing challenges and Grameenphone continues to pursue effective collaboration with ecosystem players and continually works to improve its experience.
Grameenphone is investing in strengthening the network
There are isolated pockets of our network where quality needs to be improved. In these pockets, the call drop rate exceeds the 2% limit set by the Regulator, which is also in line with the global standard by International Telecom Union (ITU). We constantly and diligently work to find out solutions for those areas. We have continuously been in dialogue with the Regulator on our improvement initiatives, and for the teams in Grameenphone and the management this is a top priority.
We are continuously working to improve the set parameters as per our license to operate issued by the Regulator. Our drive test results in September this year measured a call-drop rate of 0.21%, which is below the telecom license requirement of up to 2%. While some of this detail may be too technical, in short, all operational and quality requirements linked to our license are being complied with, and we continue to focus on further improvements.
A detour on the path to a Smart Bangladesh
The sim sale embargo on 29 June 2022 came as a big surprise to us at Grameenphone. It came without any prior consultation and reference to our telecom license framework. What makes this ban even more problematic is that it is unilaterally imposed on one operator without information on parameters or timeframes to be met and, in terms of proportionality, not calibrated to the network pockets where quality issues have been experienced.
This continued ban has many broad impacts too; firstly, it affects the freedom of choice of all new subscribers in the country who find their choices of digital connectivity partner limited. Secondly, it leaves potential new subscribers in many parts of the country without access to telecom, as these areas are only serviced by Grameenphone's modern network.
Since the ban was introduced, the telecom market has shown a degrowth of some 2% after 25 years of uninterrupted growth. In our opinion, this sends a false signal of economic contraction, a step which slows efforts to bridge the digital divide. A continuation of the embargo will invariably feed this negative development and detracts from our shared ambition and efforts to deliver a Smart Bangladesh.
The unilateral imposition also introduces an unfair playing field to the Bangladesh telecom sector, with potential effects beyond this sector. It presents less predictability in terms of laws and regulations, with direct implications on the risk associated with investing in Bangladesh.
Committed to meeting growing connectivity demands
This year has profound significance for all of us in Grameenphone as it marks a significant milestone in our commitment to reducing the digital divide and providing connectivity to the people of Bangladesh. It has been 25 years of Grameenphone serving millions of users responsibly with the power of connectivity. We have had many learnings in these 25 years and are proud of the company we have created, which has empowered its people and supported Bangladesh society's empowerment.
The experience our customers have on our network is essential to us. We have bought 991 new sites since June 2022. We have over 19,000 4G-supported network sites and have deployed an additional 4G capacity to 1,353 since the SIM ban was introduced.
As per a report by OpenSignal, a UK-based independent global standard for analysing consumers' mobile experience, Grameenphone outperformed other operators in mobile network experience. We have been awarded for Upload Speed Experience, 4G Coverage Experience, Excellent Consistent Quality and Core Consistent Quality.
Perhaps a fresh new drive test by the regulators may clear up all confusion and pave the way for Bangladesh's telecom sector to regain momentum. And Grameenphone is fully ready to cooperate to run the driving test. We believe the embargo should be lifted immediately as banning one operator's SIM sales is not the right message towards the investors, the capital market, customers' choice and, most importantly, for the advancement of Digital Bangladesh.
Digital access and mobile connectivity have never been as vital as today. Let us all work together to find the appropriate solution; let us collaborate, explore, innovate and drive constructive development for the betterment of the people of Bangladesh.
Hans Martin Hoegh Henrichsen is the Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Grameenphone; he is also the former Chief Representative, Telenor Country Office, Bangladesh.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.