Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Digital Bangladesh: Role of BTCL

Engr. S. M. Khabiruzzaman P Engg.
MD, BTCL

The history of humanity has been marked by fundamental changes, which have been brought about by revolutions in communication technology and are reflected in the history of civilization. The technological revolutions have completely reshaped our environment. The fundamental challenges we face now affect every aspect of human life. All of us are now beginners on a voyage of discovery as we enter the information age of the 21st Century. If we do not achieve common understanding through equitable and affordable communication, we shall miss the train and we will fall back further. Let us therefore resolve to help people everywhere communicate better with each other, so that together we can build a truly human world for the future.

The present government has the vision of building Digital Bangladesh by 2021. In the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS), it was decided that a knowledge-based society would be developed throughout the world by 2015, which is in line with the government's decision of building a Digital Bangladesh by 2021. There has to be a transformation to a digital system in infrastructure, governance and education, the three most vital areas for the growth of a nation. All citizens must have access to ICT and the skills to use it. In digital Bangladesh the government will have the capacity to deliver services to citizens and also to make its internal operations more efficient and transparent through the use of ICT.

Well-developed telecommunication infrastructure is a vital factor in proliferation of ICT and Government has to play pioneer role in this regard. One of the major aims of recent development projects is to facilitate ICT sector and to increase teledensity and tele-access throughout the country.
As the vital public enterprise in telecommunication sector, Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Limited (BTCL) is actively engaged in enhancement of its infrastructures for promoting ICT activities, e-governance vis-à-vis providing other telecommunication services and accordingly it is ready to meet the new scenario created by the vision of Digital Bangladesh.

Role of Telecommunication Sector

To achieve the vision of Digital Bangladesh, the telecommunication sector, in general, has some vital roles. This sector can create the foundation upon which all concerned can work to achieve the targets of vision 2021. Telecom sector can contribute to the following issues:

i. A well-developed, strong & reliable telecommunication infrastructure can ensure the effective implementation of ICT Policy and Broadband Policy of the government.
ii. Through broadband internet and broadband wireless access (WIMAX, 3G etc.) services like e-governance, e-commerce, telemedicine, tele-education etc. can be disseminated to all corners of the country which may change the socio-economic condition of the country.
iii. A developed telecommunication system can generate bulk employment opportunity.
iv. Telecommunication & ICT can create huge scope of foreign currency earning through call center service, business process outsourcing, IT-enabled services etc.
v. Through community e-center, e-citizen service etc. government may reach closer to the common people.
vi. Through extension of optical fiber upto remote areas the benefit of huge bandwidth of submarine cable can be distributed.
vii. “Cyber Cafe” in upazilla & growth center areas can remove reduce divide. Rural youths can be developed through computer literacy program to work at these cyber cafes.
viii. Coordination among IT related private and government organizations and associations can increase overseas revenue.
ix. Point of Presence (POP) at different countries can increase inbound traffic of international call.
x. Increased bandwidth capacity of submarine cable can meet the demand of ICT based future.

Role of BTCL

It is needless to say that a good telecommunication infrastructure is a prerequisite for proliferation of ICT. Acknowledging this, BTCL is playing pioneer role. BTCL is doing the best with its limited resources to provide most advanced and strong telecommunication infrastructure in the country and new telecommunication services to its valuable customers. BTCL is committed to develop modern telecom facilities at least up to Upazilla level and these will be extended up to grameen growth centers. There are more than 700 telephone exchanges of BTCL throughout the country. Such an infrastructure consists of modern digital exchanges, digital microwave systems, high capacity optical fiber transmission backbone and high-speed data network system. Both public & private entrepreneurs can use such an infrastructure for the purpose of ICT activities. Digital exchanges have been installed in all districts, majority of the upazillas and at some growth centers so far. All the subscribers of digital exchanges are able to get connection to internet. For high-speed internet and data communication, BTCL is maintaining a strong Digital Data Network (DDN) in the country. All kinds of connections and usage charges of different services are reduced to make these affordable to all.
Importance of BTCL in Multi-operator Environment

Right now there exists a real multi-operator environment in telecom sector of Bangladesh. Private operators are dominating the sector in various areas. BTRC issued licenses to both public and private operators to provide telecom services in all corners of the country and to maintain a level playing field in this sector. Though there are several private operators providing telecom services importance of BTCL is still very significant. As public sector operator, BTCL extends its services to every corner of the country. A big portion of this investment is not cost effective from financial point of view. As an example, telephone exchanges at many upazalla and growth centers are not financially viable. BTCL is still extending digital exchanges to upazillas and growth centers. Private operators carefully avoid to provide services to such places where business is not viable. But to ensure access opportunity to all people of the country, BTCL can be a strong agent for the government. BTCL tries to ensure universal access opportunity through harmonious development of network and exchanges throughout the country.

Another importance of BTCL is that, government can ensure the execution of policies through a public sector operator in the sector. Telecommunication is a service-oriented sector. Government likes to provide telecom services to common people at an affordable price. But without presence of a public sector operator, there is a chance of oligopoly among private operators. When there was only one mobile operator in the country, the service was beyond reach of common people. When there were several mobile operators in private sector, still the cost of service seemed to be high. As a result, there was a mass demand to launch mobile phone in public sector. Accordingly the then BTTB implemented the mobile phone project. After launching of public sector mobile phone in the name of ‘TELETALK’ the true competition was triggered and rapidly the charge of services of all mobile operators came down rapidly and number of mobile phone users increased dramatically. Similar thing happened after launching of BTTB internet services i.e. connection charge and use fee of internet was decreased rapidly. The incidences indicate that, for the sake of common people, government should have a control over the sector and for that government must have strong public sector operator in the telecommunication sector.

Services of BTCL

BTCL is providing different services throughout the country through more than 700 telephone exchanges, associated transmission system, data and internet system, satellite system etc. The services are a) PSTN fixed line telephone, b) PSTN wireless telephone, c) Value added service over PSTN telephone, d) Internet and Data services, e) Interconnection facilities, f) IN (Intelligent Network) based Services, g) Telecom Infrastructure lease, h) Telegraph Services, j) Miscellaneous services etc.

BTCL’s future services in support of Digital Bangladesh

BTCL is planning to take all out efforts to support the government in building Digital Bangladesh. BTCL’s target is to develop a strong telecommunication infrastructure for National and International communication and to make all sorts of telecommunication and data services available everywhere in the country with easy access and affordable prices. BTCL is taking projects to provide following services in near future:

i) NGN based infrastructure and wider penetration of telephone exchanges
ii) Expansion of Broadband network & introduction of Triple play over fixed
line (Voice + Data + Video)
iii) Broadband Wireless Access Service (WIMAX)
iv) IN Services (Free phone, Virtual Private Network, Voicemail etc)
v) Fiber to the home (FTTH)
vi) WLL telephone for greater rural penetration
vii) Alternate submarine cable for redundancy

Strengths and Opportunities of BTCL

BTCL can contribute in support of Digital Bangladesh as it has the following strengths and opportunities:

i) Nationwide reach: BTCL has telecommunication infrastructure, buildings and human resources throughout the country.
ii) Modern technology in PSTN network: BTCL has PSTN network up to growth centers and modern technology can be deployed over this network for taking advantage of legacy network.
iii) Current international gateway: BTCL has high capacity international gateway.
iv) Existing organizational infrastructure: BTCL has inherited an organizational structure covering the whole country. This can be updated easily to meet the requirement of whole population.
v) Trained and experienced human resource: BTCL has bulk amount of trained and experienced human resource including engineers and technicians, which can be utilized easily.
vi) Existing customer base: BTCL has a customer base. Moreover the common people have a sentiment to be with the public operator. BTCL can capitalize this scope through proper initiatives.

Opportunities of BTCL

i) The market exists: We can look at the growth rate of mobile phone, which indicates that there is a big market in the telecommunication sector. BTCL can target a handsome market share.
ii) By commercializing, re-branding & focusing on customers, BTCL can develop the business.
iii) By launching high-speed data services i.e. Triple play, IN services, Broadband Wireless Access Service (WIMAX) etc. BTCL can capitalize on what fixed network can do more effectively than mobile.
iv) Build position as the interconnect carrier of choice in Bangladesh
v) Village Phone service for fixed lines-reach to unreachable
vi) BTCL’s access network could become strength with appropriate technology.

Merger of Public Sector Operators

At present three independent operators namely Bangladesh Telecommunications Co. Ltd (BTCL), Teletalk Bangladesh Ltd. and Bangladesh Submarine Cable Company Ltd (BSCCL) are working as public sector operator in telecommunication field. The worldwide telecommunication technological trend is that, technologies are becoming convergent. Voice, data, video, TV, value added services etc. either as fixed or mobile are coming under one technological platform. Different companies in the world are merging for survival. Many companies having limited telecom services are closing their business. Even some PSTN operators have surrendered license to BTRC considering the difficulties of survival with limited services only. In this perspective, for healthy survival of public sector telecom operator, the three operators namely BTCL, Teletalk and BSCCL may be merged to form a stronger company. Advantages of merger of three companies are as follows:

Administrative advantages

i. Three companies have three separate Board of Directors. Due to three independent Board of Directors in same field, it is difficult to take any coordinated development plan. But one such board can take coordinated decisions for overall development of the sector.

ii. Naturally three companies have independent set of human resources. But in some specific cases like marketing, billing, sales, customer care etc. individual human resources are increasing the cumulative expenditure in public sector. In case of one company, human resources as well as expenditure will be reduced.

iii. The two companies namely Teletalk and Submarine Cable co. have been formed after completion of erstwhile BTTB projects. Assuming the systems would be part of BTTB, BTTB officers and staffs were trained on the system. Now all the staff and officers are transferred to BTCL. As a result the trained human resources of BTCL are not getting scope to work at the systems of Teletalk and Submarine Cable co. In case of one company, the trained and experienced human resources can be placed at right position at right time.

iv. In one company, the issues related to recruitment, training, placement, promotion etc. would be easy and as a result expert human resource would be developed.

Advantages in Operational Expenses (OPEX)

i. Overhead expenditure of one company is logically less then the cumulative overhead expenditure of three independent companies. Especially there will be a great cost savings in electricity, fuel, transportation, security, office rent, advertisement etc.
ii. Optimum use of infrastructure can save money. As an example, towers of Teletalk Co. may be used for BTCL WIMAX project and operational expenditure will be reduced.
iii. There will be cost saving in the issues like tax, license fee, royalty etc. for a unified company.
iv. One company can utilize total human resources properly. In case of 3 (three) independent companies, expenditure behind human resources will be more. In a combined company, the surplus manpower of BTCL may be utilized. Moreover, a synergy will be gained in OPEX in a combined company.

Technical advantages

i. Now a day telecommunication technologies are converging. NGN (Next Generation Network) technology can provide multiple services through sharing common resources. Triple play i.e. Voice + high-speed data + video service may be provided over single line. If a subscriber gets all services from a common organization, it will be a win-win situation for both the customer & service provider. Segmentation of services to multiple public sector operators will not create scope to achieve advantage of convergence of technology.
ii. If BTCL, Teletalk & Submarine Cable co. maintain separate installations in same area, no one can utilize the resources optimally. In case of common installation, maximum utilization of resources like power, floor space, electricity, air conditioning system etc. will be possible.
iii. Three companies have three independent revenue management systems. In combined company, there will be one revenue management system, which facilitate the proper monitoring of the public sector system.
iv. Both BTCL and Teletalk are installing microwave & optical fiber transmission system in different areas of the country. In some cases, there are overlapping which increases cumulative investment cost of government.
v. Interconnection is a sensitive and complicated issue among telecom operators. In a combined company, there will be no interconnection complexity among the public sector systems. Besides this, interconnecting scenario between public & private sector will be easier.
vi. Value added services are becoming very popular among customers. A combined company can offer latest value added services to all of its customers. Segmented companies may offer same service but at different times.
vii. One user-one number. One company can provide such a telephone number to subscriber, which may be used both as PSTN and as mobile number. Such facility will attract more customers towards public sector operator.
viii. Gradually broadband-based services like telemedicine, tele-education, e-shopping etc will flourish. BTCL provides the last mile solution. If BTCL has to buy bandwidth from Submarine Cable co., it will be difficult to disseminate broadband services. But if the bandwidth belongs to BTCL, it can easily disseminate the bandwidth for the sake of its revenue.
ix. In case of multiple public sector operators, inter company transaction expenses like rent of resource, revenue sharing, VAT/TAX payment etc. will be high. In such case financial position of each company will be weaker. To avoid such inter company transaction expenditure one combined company is a better solution.
In a nutshell, we can remember the proverb, “we unite we live, we separate we die”.

Conclusion

To build Digital Bangladesh by 2021 government is taking various policies and activities in different sectors. Telecommunications and ICT will work as the foundation infrastructure to support Digital Bangladesh. To ensure proper and timely implementation of government policies, there must be a healthy and strong public sector operator in telecom sector. Government also needs a pool of experienced and capable human resource in this regard. BTCL has long experience and has the required human resources regarding implementation of government programs.

Lots of private operators are serving the people, but it is natural that private operators will ensure their business first. They are helpful to government but they are not bound to achieve government’s target if that is not financially feasible to them. On the contrary, public sector operator considers the service first. Through the public sector operator government can reach to the common people irrespective of their status & position. In this perspective BTCL is a vital agent for the government. The present government has already taken initiative to invest about 5000 (Five thousands) crore taka in telecom sector, which may increase in coming days. For proper utilization of such huge investment, public sector operator must be more dynamic as well as strong. So all the public sector operators must come under one umbrella to create a healthy organization, which will be able to support the government to meet the vision 2021.

31 comments:

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