Everything is not hunky-dory for the country’s land phone operators, experts say.
The state-owned Bangladesh Telecommunication Company Limited (BTCL) has been struggling for some time now to retain its subscriber base, sources in the company said. Despite BTCL’s attempts at improving the quality of its services (QoS) by bringing the nationwide call switching operations under a single multi-mode exchange, which significantly reduced the rate of call drops, and introducing a “one country, one rate” policy, the telecom behemoth’s subscriber base and revenues are shrinking.
According to the sources in the state-owned telecom entity, BTCL has lost over 17,000 subscribers in the last six months. The official data posted in its website shows that in June last year, it had 9,90,494 subscribers while in December the number decreased in to 9,73,479.
During the same period, BTCL increased its capacity to serve its subscribers better, up from the capability to cater to the needs of 13.47 lakh subscribers to 13.73 lakh now, although nearly 31 per cent of its total capacity is unused.
The BTCL data also shows that the company earned Tk. 2108.51 crore in the 2008-2009 fiscal year. However, its incomes decreased to Tk. 1418.96 crore and Tk. 1283.65 crore, respectively, in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011.
A top official of BTCL, preferring anonymity, said mobile phone operators were chipping away at the BTCL subscriber base with their aggressive marketing and lucrative package offers.
A report, prepared in November last year, found that the BTCL had over Tk. 496 crore as dues from 54 different international carriers, said the official.
The official also said that several ministries and government offices owed the BTCL Tk. 425 crore. A total of 700 cases have been filed by the company to recover the dues.
This is not all. The BTCL’s problems were compounded by a government probe committee when it recently found massive anomalies in its international call terminations.
The six-member committee, formed two-and-a-half months ago to look into possible involvement of the BTCL in illegal voice over internet protocol (VoIP), found that the BTCL had no analysers for call data record among the international gateways and interconnection exchanges to record the numbers being connected and the call durations.
The probe committee also found that out of the BTCL’s three exchanges for international call terminations, one was often rebooted without any valid reason, resulting in traffic data loss.
Incidentally, since the international gateways and interconnection exchanges of the BTCL are on the same platform and connected to other telecom operators, the rebooting left a gap allowing calls to bypass proper channels.
The BTCL managing director refused to comment on the issue when contacted by The Independent over the phone. He said the BTCL board was looking into the matter.
Meanwhile, the three the private Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) operators, who got their license back in August last year, after a 20-month ban for their involvement in illegal VoIP call termination business, are yet to chalk out any viable comeback plan.
Among the three PSTN operators — Rankstel, National Telecom and People’s Tel — which got their licences back, Rankstel announced re-launch of its operations from the beginning of this year. But it has so far failed to do so.
Rankstel officials claimed their re-entry into the telecom market had been delayed due to some technical difficulties. However, they refused to reveal any more details.
When contacted, officials from two other operators said re-launch of their services would take some time as both of them were going through market surveys and re-installation of systems.
Industry experts, however, said the private PSTN operators were yet to chalk out a viable strategy so that they could sustain their operations for a longer period of time.
Amid the remarkable growth rates of mobile operators, land phone operators, including the BTCL, find it very difficult to remain profitable. They will have to start offering multi-scheme packages, as land phone operators of other countries did to survive in the competitive telecom market, an expert said.
-With The Independent input