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Background of mobile communication in Bangladesh

Bangladesh was the first South Asian country to adopt cellular technology back in 1993 by introducing Advanced Mobile Phone System (AMPS). In fact, the first mobile license was issued back in 1989 but it took several years to launch the services. The network coverage and number of subscribers had remained very limited due to exorbitantly high subscription cost and call. In 1996, the then government considering the monopolistic environment prevailing in the sector awarded three GSM licenses aimed at breaking the monopoly and making the cellular technology affordable to the general masses. Since then, the country's cellular industry never looked back, now it has turned into the largest infrastructure provider during the last decade as sub sector within telecom sector. This sub-sector has created new opportunities by generating employment, facilitating education and health services for common people. The mobile communications sector in Bangladesh is one of the fastest growing industries and has helped boost the economic and social development in the country in three main ways:i. By providing value-added services and creating employment from direct/indirect firms in the telecommunications sector
ii. Increased productivity in businesses as a result of mobile phone usage
iii. Increasing the involvement and engagement of its population with news and current affairs

This is borne out by key economic indicators. "The inflow of foreign direct investment (FDI) grew by 26 per cent with telecommunication sector making highest growth in the 2008-09 fiscal years over that of the previous fiscal. A total of around US $ 430 million was invested in the country's telecommunication sector, particularly by fast-growing mobile phone companies in FY 09," a recent study of Bangladesh Bank reveals. Investment from this industry as of December 2008 stands around BDT 30,000 (Thirty Thousand) crore. Contributions of mobile industry to the National Exchequer are worth more than BDT 20,000 (Twenty Thousand) crore, as of December '08. It has generated direct and indirect employment of 6,75,000 (six lakh seventy five thousand) people till 2006-07 FY which has increased further in recent years.

The mobile phone sector has also made possible the availability of data enabling services across Bangladesh. Mobile internet has helped, and will likely continue, to bridge the digital divide between people with access to information and services, and those without paving the way for materializing the dream of "Digital Bangladesh". This is especially also given the greater mobile coverage reaching 97% of the population which extends into areas beyond the fixed-lines network. It was estimated that there were over 5 million mobile internet users. Geographic location as a result will become less of a barrier to social and economic inclusion, especially amongst those within the rural areas, helping support local development, avoiding unnecessary migration and improving socio-geographic structure. The average tariff of a pre-paid mobile in Bangladesh is the lowest in the world. The cellular industry has influenced everyday-life of the millions and made communication easier which has great impact on the economy of the country. As of today, the industry, all by itself contributes 8% of the National Revenue (2008) and invested highest amount of FDI (59%) as per the Bangladesh Bank report (2008) (Retrieved from: BTRC web site, 2011).

From 1993 till 1996 the mobile phone services were monopolized by one company; Pacific Bangladesh Telecom Ltd. which didn’t let the customer benefitted, however, with the commissioning of mobile phone service by Grameen Phone Limited and Aktel in 1997, the situation started to improve in terms of price reduction and quality. The later period could be said Grameen phone Ltd. golden period, but the arrival of Banglalink in (2005) the mobile phone market brought immense price competition.

The Telecom regulatory authority of Bangladesh (BTRC) with the related agencies has been doing a crucial role of monitoring. The Bangladesh experience of mobile phone liberalization has a rich experience and presents a role model and suggests some important lesson for others; that is, in an industry like the mobile phone sector where network externalities and switching costs are important. Moreover, in liberalizing the telecom sector, the policy makers should keep in mind that a minimum number of players (may be three, four or more, depending on the market size, Tele-density and availability of radio spectrum) are needed in the sector to have a competitive environment (Shah, 2008) .