Technology neutrality fee for 4G irks stakeholders

Dhaka,  Thu,  21 September 2017
Published : 11 Jul 2017, 00:40:42

Technology neutrality fee for 4G irks stakeholders

Mehdi Musharraf Bhuiyan

The long-awaited guideline for roll-out of the 4th generation cellular mobile phone services in the country is set to trigger further debate within the telecom industry over the issue of technology neutrality fee.  

The draft guideline, which was posted on the website of the Post and Telecommunication Division last week, is now being reviewed by telecom operators and other major stakeholders.

Technology neutrality fee for 4G irks stakeholdersTalking to the FE, a number of insiders, however, opined that the guideline failed to provide 'enough clarity' regarding the much-debated issue of technology neutrality, they said.

The 4G guideline, in its latest draft, has stated that in addition to annual license fee and 5.5 per cent of gross revenue, the licensees will "have to pay the conversion fee for technology neutrality of spectrum already assigned in favour of Cellular Mobile Phone Operator".

This conversion fee will be decided by the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) later on, the guideline added.

This is, however, is in sharp contrast to the earlier demands of the mobile operators who have for long opposed imposition of any fee on technology neutrality in spectrum use.  

According to industry data, 4G has so far been introduced in 112 countries around the world out of which, only 7 or 8 countries have imposed such technology neutrality fee.

"Among the South Asian countries, only Sri Lanka and Nepal charged very nominal tech neutrality fee while introducing 4G and that is because their initial spectrum acquisition cost was significantly low", said an industry insider, speaking on condition of anonymity.  

"In Bangladesh, on the other hand, the government already imposed high spectrum fee during 2G renewal as well as 3G auctioning. At that time, the telecom regulator said that spectrum fee includes tech neutrality fee", he added. 

"Consequently, they have removed all references of tech neutrality fee from the 2G and 3G guidelines. But, now they are talking about fees again", he added.    

"Asking for an additional fee for providing technology neutrality is irrational and unjustified. These two things--technology neutrality and fee--cannot go together", said Abu Sayeed Khan, who is the former General Secretary of the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh.

"Technology neutrality means that the operators will have the liberty of choosing any spectrum frequency for any service. Imposing a fee deviates the whole concept from its real essence and purpose", said Khan, who is now a Senior Policy Fellow of the regional ICT think-tank LIRNEasia.    

Earlier last month, regional executives of the country's top telecom operators placed a joint letter to the State Minister for Posts and Telecom Tarana Halim urging her not to impose any additional tech neutrality fee for spectrum usage.

Mobile operators currently use the 2100 band for 3G services and 900 and 1800 bands for 2G services. But after getting technology neutrality, they can use the latter two bands for 4G services, which will be more cost-effective.

Industry insiders were also critical about the speed requirements of 4G that was outlined in the draft guideline, pointing out that it has set the peak speed requirements for 4G service at 100 megabits per second for high mobility communication and 1 gigabit per second for low mobility communication.

"Attaining such speed is not possible for anyone with the spectrum the operators have right now", said an official of a top telecom operator, who prefers not to be named.

"Even In India, it is only 18 MBPS", he added.  

With regard to spectrum allocation, insiders also called for creating a level-playing field before the introduction of 4G in the country.

Mobile operators in Bangladesh have long blamed inadequate spectrum allocation for the often erratic voice and data service in the country.  

According to BTRC figures, each operator in Bangladesh uses on an average 28.4 Megahertz of spectrum while it is usually 70 to 110 MHz for operators in developed countries.

Even in Malaysia, operators are using 56 MHz, while it is 41 MHz in Vietnam.

On the contrary, operators in Bangladesh are serving more customers than the operators in developed countries.

The country has a total of 330 MHz of spectrum in six different bands, but the regulator has allocated only 182 MHz. Of the amount, the operators received only 117 MHz.
Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
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