Category Archives: Telecom Sector/Broadband and Internet/WiMAX

Infrastructure deal between Robi, QUBEE

Infrastructure deal between Robi, QUBEE
Business Report

Mobile Phone Operator Robi Axiata Ltd has recently signed a bilateral infrastructure sharing agreement with WIMAX operator QUBEE. Managing Director and CEO of Robi, Michael Kuehner and Chief Executive Officer  of QUBEE Jerry Mobbs signed the agreement at the Robi Corporate Office.

From Robi, Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) Tatsu Kono, Vice President, Corporate Strategy Ahmed Armaan Siddiqui, General Manager, Wholesale Business Md. Mizanur Rahman were present at the agreement signing ceremony along with other senior officials.

From QUBEE, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) D.S. Faisal Hyder, Chief Technology Officer (CTO). Md.Shafiqul Islam along with other senior officials were present.

Through this  Infrashare agreement QUBEE will utilize the existing  infrastructures of Robi efficiently and cost effectively.

Internet usage gains popularity to rural people in Gaibandha

Internet usage gains popularity to rural people in Gaibandha

GAIBANDHA, Oct 30 (BSS)- “I did not understand the internet and could not see it earlier. Now, we go to UP chairman office and give fertilizer on the agro land by taking suggestion from the internet to get desired production”, said farmer Jalal Uddin of Mirpur Village of Sahapara Union in Sadar Upazila.

Another man Al Mansur of the village said “I have got the results of SSC and HSC examinations and other information from the internet on how to get admitted my children into a university of the country”.

Arif Hossain, a businessman of Bishnupur Village of the union, said, “I can easily know the updated market prices of all essentials from the internet side by side with knowing other need base information on different issues”.

Like Jalal, Mansur and Arif other village men of the union expressed their feelings in different ways while they were talking to this correspondent at Sahapara Union Parishad of Sadar Upazila in the district on internet very recently.

The rural men are undoubtedly being benefited by knowing their necessary information on agriculture, education, health and other important issues from such the UP offices where internet service is available, said an entrepreneur.

As a result, the usage of internet is gaining more popular to the rural people and their school and college going children day by day. In a word, it has created revolution to them and it is a good sign of building digital Bangladesh, he also said.

Mahbubur Rahman Tulu, Chairman of the UP, said a large number of people from all walks of life come to the UP office regularly for their respective works and they are being briefed about internet and its usefulness in the gap of their work.

Many of the educated youths have also opened well decorated shops at Haat, Bazaars and the corners of the roads from where the village people are also getting internet services, he also said.

Sadar Upazila Nirbahi Officer Mamunur Rashid said Union Information Service Centers (UISCs) have been opened in all the 13 union parishad offices of the upazila so that the rural people could get need base information from the internet.

Computer, laptop, printer and internet modem were also given to the UISCs to help provide the internet services to the people, he also said.

The bill boards would be set up in front of the UP offices to make the village people internet oriented, he further said.

Deputy Commissioner M. Shahidul Islam said the village people are getting information from the internet which was a dream and imaginary to them earlier.

To ensure internet related services to the rural people and to help materialize the dream of digital Bangladesh, all the 82 unions of the district have been brought under Information Technology, he also said.

Robi, QUBEE sign infrastructure deal

Robi, QUBEE sign infrastructure deal
Author / Source : STAFF REPORTER

Dhaka, Oct 29: Mobile phone operator Robi Axiata Limited has recently signed a bilateral infrastructure sharing agreement with WIMAX operator QUBEE. Managing director and chief executive officer of Robi, Michael Kuehner and chief executive officer of QUBEE Jerry Mobbs signed the agreement at the Robi corporate office in the city recently.

Under the deal, Robi expects to have more sharing and cooperation in coming days.

Through this agreement, QUBEE will utilise the existing infrastructures of Robi efficiently and cost effectively.

This will also help to realize the Digital Bangladesh dream in line with the government vision.

From Robi, chief strategy officer Tatsu Kono, vice-president, corporate strategy Ahmed Armaan Siddiqui, general manager, wholesale business Md. Mizanur Rahman.From QUBEE, chief financial officer DS Faisal Hyder, chief technology officer Md Shafiqul Islam were present on the occasion.

150 software firms await 3G boon

150 software firms await 3G boon
Waiting for launch for one year

Author / Source : FAISAL MAHMUD

Dhaka, Oct 24: About 150 software firms have been waiting for more than a year for the launch of the 3G technology. The government launch of the 3G technology will not only prove to be good news for telecom operators, a number of firms that develop software for 3G-enabled mobile phones for foreign buyers, at cheaper prices, could also offer a better rate for millions of local users, software industry experts say. Sources at the Bangladesh Mobile Phone Importers Association (BMPIA) said that 1.9 million 3G-enabled handsets had been sold in the country in the past one year. Once the 3G networks are up and running, compatible handsets would arm people with a range of useful services including global positioning system (GPS), cheaper internet connections, sending and receiving emails via mobile phones, faster encoded data transmission and live television coverage.

According to software development industry sources, the picture of a true “Digital Bangladesh” would be clearly visible once the government launches 3G.

A number of software development company heads said they could build up a huge market for mobile software, worth at least Tk. 500 crore, as they were fully equipped and capable of designing customised corporate mobile software.

“We have for the past two years developed mobile software by using Rubi on Rails (an open-source web application framework for the Ruby programming language) for several small and medium corporate houses based in the US. If the country launches 3G services, we can develop software for Bangladeshi corporate houses too,” said Simon Azim, CEO, Thinkcrest.

Azim also maintained that 3G would be a perfect solution for the corporate houses in Dhaka.

“A good deal of time is lost in traffic jams these days. Once the 3G backbone is in place, corporate executives and employees can do part of their office work, while stuck in traffic gridlocks, simply by using their smartphones or 3G handsets,” he noted.

Shibli Ahmed, chief systems analyst at Techpeople, said people in the West and even in neighbouring India had been using smartphones and iPhones for office work while out of office for long.

“Large, even some small and medium-sized corporate houses in Japan, China, Australia, Europe, India, Canada and America have their own software for conducting office work, which software firms, including a few from Bangladesh, develop as per requirement. In Japan, almost 90 per cent of the corporate houses do half of their office work on their smartphones,” Ahmed said.

Jubaer Arefin, a software engineer at Redpipal Ltd, said designing customised software for a small-scale office would cost between Tk. 40,000 and 100,000. Considering the output it could generate, it would be a very handy option for the companies.

Arefin also said designing such software had become much easier with the introduction of content management systems (CMS), which took away much of the pain involved in earlier programming methods.

“As most of the plug-ins (written programmes for particular functions, which could be integrated with existing software for upgrade) are now available on the Internet, they could easily be integrated in the CMS platform with the customised requirements,” he said.

Mahbub Zaman, the president of Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS), said software companies in Bangladesh had long had the capability of designing mobile software.

“A number of companies, which design these types of software for overseas clients, are likely to get local contracts with the arrival of the 3G system,” Zaman said.

The BASIS president also said a number of institutions had already been provided training in mobile software development. “Creating skilled manpower resources for this purpose would not be a problem,” Zaman said.

Zaman also said there were seven Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU) Level 3-certified Bangladeshi companies capable of designing enterprise-level 3G software.

The value of unlicensed software installed on personal computers has now reached a record US $137 million, as per the Global Software Piracy Study 2010 conducted by Business Software Alliance (BSA), which evaluates the global state of software piracy.

But Zaman said if 3G were launched, Bangladeshis would gradually shift to using original software from their habitual dependence on the pirated ones. “For a country like Bangladesh, where a number of IT graduates switch professions due to lack of suitable jobs, 3G-enabled software designing could be the best option for the revival of the country,” he pointed out.

MoU signed for reaching mobile phone services to rural people

MoU signed for reaching mobile phone services to rural people

DHAKA, Oct 17 (BSS)- Local Government Division (LGD), Access to Information(A2I) Programme,currently Support to Digital Bangladesh, of the Prime Minister’s Office and Robi Axiata Limited today signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the aim of reaching mobile phone services to the doorstepof the rural people.

National Project Director of the A2I Programme Md Nazrul Islam Khan, Additional Secretary of Local Government Division Syed Mahbub Hasan and Chief Marketing Officer of Robi Bidyut Kumar Basu signed the MoU on the behalf of their respective organizations at the Prime Minister’s Office.

Officials of the A2I Programme and other organizations concerned were present at the signing ceremony.

Nazrul Islam said the union information service centres (UISCs) have been set up in 4,501 union parishads (UP) across the country to bring rural people under the information technology network for developing their lives and livelihood.

In line with the government’s plan to build ‘Digital Bangladesh’ as charted out in the ‘Vision 2021′, he said the government is adding different services to the UISCs to bring about significant changes in the living standard of the rural people.

Now mobile phone is part and parcel of life of the people of all levels, Bidyut said, adding that rural people will enjoy services of Robi through the UISCs, which will explore facilities to change their life.

Step by step, different services of Robi will be provided for rural people through the UISCs, he said.

Under the MoU, Robi, one of the country’s largest mobile phone operators, will implement their services at 800 UISCs within one year in the country. The remaining UISCs will be brought under the programme in phases.

The people of rural areas can buy Robi SIM and recharge their mobile phones through UISCs.

Besides, the rural people can avail of mobile banking facilities using Robi SIM. After introduction of the services, Robi internet facilities will also be available.

NSN Liquid Net to spur broadband growth

NSN Liquid Net to spur broadband growth
Author / Source : Staff Reporter

DHAKA, OCT 15: Liquid Net, a new way to deliver and manage broadband, introduced by Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN), is expected to help broadband growth in Bangladesh.

“Broadband demand is fluid, so networks should be too in order to assure maximum outcome,” country head of Nokia Siemens Networks Markku Nieminen said. Managing the flow more efficiently, the new technology will benefit both operators and the end users, he claimed.

According to him, the demand of broadband is becoming highly unpredictable, fluctuating as people use broadband and voice services on the move and switch between services and applications at various times. Thus margins are being squeezed as competition heats up. Yet traditional telco hardware, while in general very reliable, has been fixed in both location and in its ability to support other uses, with the result that networks are dimensioned to meet peak demand.

Nokia Siemens Networks’ Liquid Net breaks through conventional resource limitations to unleash frozen network capacity into a reservoir of resources that can flow to fulfil unpredictable demand, wherever and whenever people use broadband, Nieminen explained.

“Liquid Net creates networks that can adapt in an instant to changing customer needs, using existing capital investments more efficiently and generating entirely new revenue opportunities,” he also added.

According to Nieminen, the Liquid Net uses automated, self-adapting broadband optimization to deliver services and content to ensure the best customer experience by always being aware of the network’s operational status and the services being consumed. In addition, Liquid Net channels traffic in the transport network along the path of least resistance and lowest cost between sites, he said.

Explaining how the new technology would help operators, Nieminen said, the network will be dimensioned on average traffic load than peak load. Together with commercial off this the shelf ATCA based hardware allows operators more efficient use of capital expenditure.

Govt to withdraw duty on internet devices, 15pc VAT on internet usage to go

Govt to withdraw duty on internet devices
15pc VAT on internet usage to go
Staff Correspondent

The government has decided to withdraw import duty on internet devices to reduce costs for local users.

Besides, it has decided to waive 15 per cent VAT on internet usage as well as revise the tax structure of mobile handsets and mobile phone scratch cards.

The decision was taken at a meeting on tax structure of telecom sector between finance ministry and telecom and information technology ministry on Thursday.

The finance minister AMA Muhith presided over the meeting. Post and Telecommunication Minister Rajiuddin Ahmed Raju, and State Minister for Science and Technology Yeafesh Osman also attended the meeting.

The decision of the meeting will be implemented within December this year.

Talking to reporters after the meeting, the finance minister said they discussed revising tax structure on Information Communication Technology (ICT) items.

The cost of the customer services and the interests of local industry should also be examined in implementing the revised tax structure, he added.

Chairman of National Board of Revenue Dr Nasiruddin Ahmed told at the meeting that the revenue board only earns Tk 120 million every year from duty on modems.

Besides, 12 per cent tax on mobile handsets should be withdrawn by setting a tax of Tk 200 per set, he added. Chairman also said that one dollar tax on mobile phone scratch cards is likely to be withdrawn setting new tax on invoice value of the item.

Robi takes internet to public libraries

Robi takes internet to public libraries

Information Minister Abul Kalam Azad inaugurates the free internet service of Robi at Sufia Kamal Public Library at Shahbagh in Dhaka yesterday. Mahtab Uddin Ahmed, chief financial officer of the mobile operator, was also present. Photo: Robi

Star Business Report

Private mobile phone operator Robi has come out to facilitate readers with internet services at all seven divisional public libraries.

The company yesterday launched the campaign at Sufia Kamal Public Library at Shahbagh.

Users will be able to explore the world on the free internet, said Robi officials. The operator launched the campaign with some computers and internet modems free of cost. They said it will not charge for usage at the internet corners.

With support of the public libraries department, Robi will establish the internet corners at the divisional public libraries to give an opportunity to all to know about the benefits of the internet, said Robi officials.

Abul Kalam Azad, information and cultural affairs minister, said: “We need awareness for internet communication. It saves time and money.”

“Our mother language is Bangla. But we need to learn English to move along with technology. So we should give importance to learning languages,” Azad said.

Mahtabuddin Ahmed, chief financial officer of Robi, said internet growth has not increased even though there has been a rapid rise in mobile phone use in the country.

Internet awareness among users is needed to reap the true benefits of information technology, he said.

Mobile phone use crosses 80m mark

Mobile phone use crosses 80m mark
Author / Source : Mashiur Rahaman

DHAKA, SEPT 24: The total number of active mobile phone users in the country crossed 80 million in mid-September.

The growth was much faster than anticipated, according to the telecommunication regulator officials. “Bangladesh’s mobile phone subscription crossed the 80 million milestone in the second week of this month,” an official of Bangladesh Telecommu-nication Regulatory Commission, told The Independent.

Promised by the advent of 3G services in the country, mobile user-base grew faster than what telecommunication industry experts anticipated, he said.

Bangladeshi mobile operators ended August with a combined total of 79.677 million mobile subscribers, according to figures from BTRC.

Mobile operator Grameenphone (GP) led the market with 34.979 million mobile customers, compared with 34.412 million a month earlier.

GP is the local concern of Norwegian telecom giant Telenor Group that controls about 45 per cent mobile phone subscription in Bangladesh.

Banglalink’s (Bangladesh concern of Egyptian Orascom Telecom Bangladesh Limited) customer base inched up to 21.621 million from 21.072 million subscribers, while Robi (a part of Malaysia-based Axiata Bangladesh Ltd) ended August with 14.971 million, up from 14.643 million customers in July.

Airtel Bangladesh’s customer base grew to 5.164 million compared with 5.097 million a month earlier, while Citycell’s (Pacific Bangladesh Telecom Limited — PBTL) subscriber base was 1.778 million from 1.718 million.

Teletalk’s, the state owned operator, subscriber base witnessed growth after the last couple of months and the company ended August with 1.161 million subscribers versus 1.131 million a month earlier.

Within the last eight months, a total of 11.032 million new subscribers joined the national mobile phone network. The top three operators (Grameenphone, Banglalink and Robi) control up to 90 per cent of the total subscriber base, BTRC data reveal.

The Pacific Bangladesh (Citycell) lost its monopoly after Grameen and other operators managed licences to run telecom business in the country one after another.

Bandwidth use triples in 3 years

Bandwidth use triples in 3 years
Abdullah Mamun

The use of internet bandwidth tripled in the last three years as international voice and data traffic has increased manifold during the period, said officials of the country’s lone bandwidth providing company.

In 2008, bandwidth use was 7.5 Gigabits per second (Gbps) that leapfrogged to 22 Gbps now, said the officials of state-owned Bangladesh Submarine Cable Company Ltd (BSCCL).

The company will upgrade its capacity to 160 Gbps by February 2012 at a cost of Tk 50 crore, said Monwar Hossain, its managing director and chief executive officer.

In 2010-11 the company earned Tk 54.47 crore in profit, almost fivefold of Tk 11.55 crore it earned in 2008-09, Hossain said.

An industry analyst said increased data consumption through cable and wireless system pushed up the bandwidth use, especially after the launch of three wireless broadband providers — Qubee, Banglalion and Citycell Zoom Ultra.

Mustafa Jabbar, president of Bangladesh Computer Samity, said the broadband use will rise five times after the roll-out of 3G technology.

Jabbar said a stiff competition will emerge only when the private sector bandwidth providers will join the market.

Recently the government has allowed six new international terrestrial cables in the private sector, and plans to install another submarine cable at private initiative. If the prices and tariffs are cut, the bandwidth usage will go up, the analysts said.

Back in 2007, the caretaker government reduced the bandwidth price from Tk 75,000 to Tk 27,000 per Mbps. The price is now Tk 10,000, which the analysts said is still high.

20m to have internet access by year end

20m to have internet access by year end
Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha . Dhaka

With vigorous attempt of the government to make more people tech savvy to achieve the vision of the Digital Bangladesh, internet accessibility is going to be doubled in less than one year.

An official at the ministry of posts and telecommunications told the news agency on Thursday that internet users in Bangladesh would be around 20 million by the end of this year with a phenomenal increase in the internet connections. Currently, 10 million people are using internet regularly from 1.1 million internet connections.

According to Internet Service Provider Association of Bangladesh, 60 internet service providers in the private sector are now offering internet services, besides the state-owned Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Limited.

Citing the findings of a report, the official said on an average 10 people used a connection for sending emails and browsing web sites.

Considering the phenomenal growth rate, driven by increasing number of ‘internet population’, he said they were expecting another 10 million people on the online trail from 1 million new connections by the end of 2011.

The number of internet connections was 0.6 million (six laky) in 2009 when the present government came to power with a strong commitment of making the country digitally enriched by 2021. Over the past two years, internet users grew by around 84 per cent to 1.1 million in 2011 from 0.6 million in 2009. The number of connections is projected to be 2 million by this year.

3-G mobile phone in Bangladesh by this year

3-G mobile phone in Bangladesh by this year

DHAKA, MAY 10:  Post and Telecommunications Minister Raziuddin Ahmed Razu today said 3-G mobile phone will be introduced in the country by this year for further development of the mobile phone sector. “The 3-G mobile phone would bring revolutionary changes in the information and communication technologies including e- education and e-health,” he said while addressing as the chief guest the annual prize-giving function of Bangshal Girls’ High School here.

The telecom minister said new generation, especially the students, could play an important role in implementing Digital Bangladesh.

Highlighting various programmes taken by the government to build a Digital Bangladesh, he said country cannot lag behind in the ICT sector. “We would be able to provide laptops to the students at low cost to reduce burden of the students on textbooks,” he said.

Placing emphasis on educating the new generation in real history, the telecom minister said people, who are in favour of the Liberation War, never form a government with Razakar and Al- badr. With Headmistress of the school Jinnat Ara Saleha in the chair, the function was addressed by local parliament member Dr Mostafa Jalal Mohiuddin.

Bangladesh telecom industry marks tremendous growth

Bangladesh telecom industry marks tremendous growth
Huawei CEO says while unveiling 10-yr plan
Business Desk

Bangladesh telecom industry had made a tremendous growth in the past decade and was poised for significant achievements in the next decade.

Huawei Bangladesh CEO Wonder Wang said adding Huawei reaffirms its commitment to Bangladesh by providing the latest cutting-edge technology to Bangladesh partners in 2G, 3G, Enterprise and Terminals domain.

He made the remark while Huawei unveiled a 10-year growth strategy at an analyst summit in Shanghai recently, according to a message received here yesterday.

Under the strategy, Huawei, a world-leading telecom solutions provider, planned to provide integrated solutions to operators, enterprises and consumers across the world including Bangladesh.

Richard Yu, chief marketing officer of Huawei, said: “The next 10 years will be a crucial period as the needs of users shift from basic communications to comprehensive demands for information. The disappearing line between IT and ICT presents both opportunities and challenges for us. Huawei will continue to collaborate closely with partners to broaden the boundaries of the telecommunications industry and work towards greater growth.”

Huawei reaffirms its commitment to Bangla- desh by providing the latest cutting-edge technology to Bangladesh partners in 2G, 3G, Enterprise and Terminals domain,” Wonder Wang said.

Huawei has strong presence in Bangladesh as it is the biggest supplier to GP, Banglalink, Robi, Citycell, Teletalk and BTCL, and the second biggest supplier to Airtel.

Meanwhile Huawei yesterday filed lawsuits in Germany, France, and Hungary against ZTE Corporation (ZTE) for patent and trade mark infringement. The lawsuits were filed on the basis that ZTE is infringing a series of Huawei’s patents relating to data card and LTE (Long Term Evolution) technologies and illegally used a Huawei-registered trademark on some of its data card products.

Bangladesh: the next name in outsourcing

Business Life
Bangladesh: the next name in outsourcing

Ahmadul HoqM

Abdullah Mamun

Ahmadul Hoq, president of Bangladesh Call Centre and Outsourcing (BACCO), the industry body representing contact centre and business process outsourcing (BPO), speaks to The Daily Star on business opportunities for the call centre industry in Bangladesh. He works with the government and private sector to create strategies for the country to ensure that Bangladesh is the “next” destination of choice for outsourcing and offshoring.

How did you get involved with this business?

At first, I was involved in setting up a call centre in India. India is doing good business. In 2006, I tried to get permission from Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) for voice over internet protocol (VoIP) operations, as my target was to set up a back office here in Dhaka. But the BTRC laughed it off. After a year, the BTRC published the call centre guideline. I worked on the formation of the guidelines.

What are you doing now?

I have a company called Virgo. It is an ISO standard company with 90 seats, and half of them are in use. Of course, we are working on voice services, but we are also doing virtual assistance, software development and content development. We plan to start a big venture soon.

Tell me more about the venture.

The new venture will be a global BPO company. I hope it will be able to create employment for 10 thousand graduates in the next five years. We will provide $100 million in salaries to our employees. When the backup fibre cable will be set up, a lot of work will be created for Bangladesh.

What is about the difference in terms of wage costs between the countries?

The cost of wages is far higher in the developed world than in Bangladesh. It is, on an average, $30 an hour in the European countries. It is even more in the US. India is paying $20 and the Philippines, $10 to $15. But it is still $8 in Bangladesh. So we are in an advantageous position, which is the most important asset for us. A $470 billion work opportunity in the US is waiting for us. It currently outsources 30 percent, while almost half of it can be offshored. Huge opportunities await us.

Which countries are in the call centre market?

Of course, India and the Philippines are the pioneers. South Africa, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Kenya are also in the business. Even Bhutan is working on it. The heads of state of India and the Philippines have prioritised the issue. They took 15 years to reach this situation. If we can do the same, we will also be able to capitalise on the opportunities. We need to form a committee that will report to the prime minister on the issue.

What is the scale of investment required to form a call centre nowadays?

If you want to set up a call centre of 30 seats, then you will have to invest at least Tk 1 crore. A large space is also required, which is very expensive in Dhaka. Telecommunication costs are not competitive, compared to other countries. But the problem is that we do not have trained people. The university students are not ready at all. So you will need to train them for about six months and training costs are also very high.

Revenue sharing with the government is now 0.5 percent but it should be eliminated for at least 10 years. Big businessmen should come to the sector with big investments. We have learnt how to get the business and the technicalities. None will come to us; we will have to go to them. So investment is also needed on the branding side and this is where the government should concentrate on.

Did you face any problems in receiving payment for work done?

A majority of the call centres in the country are facing this problem. Recently, a company did not receive payment worth Tk 14 lakh. The main company did not pay the money. We have no scope to file a case with the courts as laws differ from country to country. So, some local companies are setting up offices in the European markets to get the legal facilities of those countries.

What are your predictions about this sector?

It will not be impossible to deploy half a million people in the sector within the next five to seven years. Before acquiring international services, we need to unlock our home back offices. If the banks come across to offshore their back offices, it will help us obtain international contracts. We believe over 150,000 direct and 37,500 indirect jobs will be created within the next 10 years. It will be possible to earn at least $2 billion a year in foreign exchange.

Call centre: the sky is the limit

Business Life
Call centre: the sky is the limit

Employees are at work in a call centre in Dhaka recently. The country is set to earn billions of dollars in foreign currency from the sector. Photo: Amran Hossain

Abdullah Mamun

The year 2007 opened a new door for Bangladesh, offering newer opportunities to earn foreign currency by employing young graduates at home.

Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) introduced its call centre policy for the local investors. The regulator claimed it had found, in terms of salary and career success, the sky was the limit for IT professionals.

The BTRC took on a policy that would enable the country to earn billions of dollars from abroad. A number of entrepreneurs enthused over the issue and around 270 licences were given to the firms.

But the tricks of the trade were not known to many and less than a fourth of the licensees are in the market at present.

Securing one percent of the $600 billion market does not seem impossible for Bangladesh to achieve, insiders say. Avenues are still open — it just needs some initiatives and help from the government as well as the actors in the field. Bangladesh hopes to be the best offshore call centre across the globe.

Why Bangladesh?
In September 2010, British technology magazine Outsource reported on the opportunities of Bangladesh, saying, “The advantages of Bangladesh’s grabbing some of the global sourcing pie are obvious. In particular, the authorities have seen the call centre space as providing an excellent entry-point for Bangladesh into the global market, capitalising upon the country’s historic cultural and linguistic connections with the English-speaking world.”

“However, the government is aware that a good deal of education and incentivisation is required to bring the country into the headlights of organisations looking for a suitable low-cost outsourcing destination — education not just amongst Bangladeshis looking for work, but among organisations with work to place.”

The foremost claim of Bangladesh to qualify as the best place for offshore calls is low wages. Bangladesh has certainly more than 25 percent cost advantage over India. Moreover, Indian call centre operators will soon cease to enjoy its 15-year tax break.

The Philippines has already overtaken India in this sector. So Bangladesh too has a chance to chew its piece of the pie. The readymade garments sector in Bangladesh is taking advantage of low wages and booming day by day.

The same conditions apply to call centres. The universities, colleges and vocational institutions in Bangladesh are producing a large pool of English proficient graduates in all disciplines. A huge number of creative graduates are waiting for a job in the market, which makes the sector lucrative.

Moreover, the English accent of the Bangladeshi people is highly neutral, which gives Bangladesh more advantages compared to other nations in the region. Geo-strategically, the Bangladesh time, (+) 6 GMT, ensures a ‘follow the sun’ services for its global clients.

The business situation
Currently, it is not impressive at all. Some 60 institutions are working with more or less 5,000 agents. Compared to India or the Philippines, it may be even less than half of a large company’s accommodation.

As the licensing fee is only Tk 5,000, many enthusiasts had initially thought it was like setting up a ‘phone-fax’ shop in the alley. As per licence conditions, the BTRC cancelled most of the licences when nothing moved with the licensees through the first six months after the permits were issued.

Looking about and winning a contract from the western world is not an easy task, many found out. The competition is not at home, it is with the experienced world, the entrepreneurs realised. The international standards of services coupled with huge investments made the business tough for most. More or less 10 of the Bangladeshi entities are in profit till now.

Both in the domestic and international services, Bangladeshi call centres are obtaining work orders in voice services or the customer care type contracts. Voice services comprise even less than 10 percent in the business arena, while the main opportunities lie with back office, software development, virtual assistance, transcription or even financial assistance. So Bangladesh has not yet seen any of the more sophisticated work.

A comprehensive roadmap is urgently needed to get the call centres flourished. A target should be fixed as to what Bangladesh would like to see in the next five to ten years. The sector has not been declared to date as an industry, which deprives investors of bank loans, while the return from the business is still slow.

According to call centre guidelines, domestic and international call centre service providers cannot operate from the same premises and systems. So an investment of taka one crore is useless either by day or night as it cannot operate around the clock. Basically, domestic services are performed during the day and the international ones by night.

The country also has no backup in international fibre optic cables. Customers in the western world turn their faces away when they hear that Bangladesh has no backup connectivity. Some time ago, a company tried to obtain work by installing a V-sat, which was to be connected via satellite. But it proved too expensive for the amount of business to be achieved.

It is applaudable that the government took the initiative to be connected with five more cables. But at least one is needed immediately — either submarine or terrestrial — for the ICT industry, as well as the call centre providers, stakeholders say.

The western companies look for experienced call centres but the local industry is still at a nascent stage. It is only a three-year-old industry, still faltering in its steps.

Although the domestic call centre service providers are doing well, it is up to the country’s big financial institutions to now let the call centres provide them with back office problem solutions. Such experiences would be useful for the call centres when they try to secure international contracts.

An insufficient supply of English spoken employees, i.e. students, is a problem for this sector. The educational institutions should take proper steps to groom their students in spoken English, like in India or the Philippines. Call centre operators should train and groom the new employees for up to six months.

Women workers are valued as assets in the call centres. But society is yet to permit girls to work at night or return home late at night due to social taboos and security concerns. Mass awareness campaigns are a must to address this.

Also, marketing in the global arena needs to be addressed. Frequent international exposures are needed to let people know about the country’s presence in the market. Taking part in global expositions to attract new customers is also a must.