July 18, 2009

Telco Infrastructure Sharing: Lack of Interest Wasting Millions

For constructing overhead and underground infrastructures each of the Telecom operators have spent billions in an unplanned way across the country. They have not shared the facilities due to the telecom regulator’s inadequate and timely measures. Spider web of overhead optical fiber are swinging over city streets and the neighborhoods are saddled with excessive Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) posing hazard to secure public movement and fresh atmosphere.

To spread out networks across the country, roughly all mobile and fixed phone operators have set up equipment worth billions of taka independently over the past years, raising their capital investments significantly. Currently, telecom operators have nine optical fiber backbones across the country. They also installed over 100 regional optical fibers to expand their network.

But it would have been sufficient if there was only one countrywide optical fiber backbone, having necessary backup support, to provide similar services now the telecom operators are providing. It costs around
Tk 10 million to set up a BTS alone which points to the huge expense in building up infrastructure.

Most telecom operators have been hit by high operational cost and capital expenditures. They are building similar kind of infrastructure of their own and finding it difficult to make such a big investment. Big players are being reluctant to share infrastructure with the newcomers though it would have been a win-win position for both the parties. Warid Telecom that made its expedition into Bangladesh market in 2007 is finding it hard to build infrastructure due to lack of interest of the biggies to share their facilities with others.

The public switched telephone network (PSTN) operators, with small clientele, are the worst affected due to 'complicacy' in telecom infrastructure-sharing. The biggies offer 'irrational' rates for infrastructure-sharing, making it difficult for a deal. The government should fix charges for sharing of infrastructure.

Though the private telecom operators entered the market in mid 1990s, the telecom regulator came up with a guideline on infrastructure-sharing by the telecom operators after one and a half decades of the initial operation in September 2008. But, in the meanwhile, most of the operators invested heavily on development of their individual infrastructure.

And most recently the regulator framed another guideline on nationwide telecommunication transmission network (NTTN) to streamline expansion of telecom infrastructure in a planned and smooth way. The BTRC said the NTTN guideline aimed at de-cluttering the city areas and towns, minimizing the wastage of national resources. The regulator has also provided the NTTN license to Fiber@Home Ltd in January this year to streamline the countrywide telecom backbone.

Within next two months the company will be able to provide service in the capital through underground optical fiber backbone. The BTRC made an obligation to the NTTN operator to reach upazila level to provide quality telecom, internet and cable television services to the remote areas. As per the NTTN guideline they will cover the whole country with fiber optic cable within the next 10 years. However, the service providers will have no reason to be worried as the company will not give any kind of services to the end users.

But its success will depend on sharing of infrastructure in true sense, which has been lacking in the country's telecom sector for over the years.


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