The government is hell-bent on making sure that the fixed-line telephone operator Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Limited (BTCL) gets back to its profit making days.
BTCL, whose main service is on the steep decline and on its way out, has been sanctioned with one project after another from the government to revive which was once a highly profitable state-run company.
In the fiscal year of 2008-09, the company from a state organization revealed that its revenue was Tk 1,689.4 crore and net profit of Tk 106.2 crore. In the fiscal year of 2019-20, however, it incurred a loss of Tk 324.7 crore, according to the BTCL’s audited financial report for 2019-20.
The company is at a massive disadvantage from its aging assets. In the year of 2019-20, the depreciation costs were at Tk 441.6 crore, down 21.2 per cent year-on-year but still the biggest chunk of its expenditure of Tk 1,240.6 crore. The depreciation costs were Tk 591.6 crore in fiscal 2017-18, Tk 485.8 crore in 2016-17 and Tk 514.51 crore in 2015-16.
In the fiscal year of 2018-19, it reported a revenue of Tk 716.4 crore, the lowest in 5 years, according to its audited annual report. And yet, the company, which narrowed its losses by 11.8 per cent to Tk 324.7 crore in its 2019-20 financial year, took on board 24 projects worth Tk 16,173.8 crore.
“We undertook big plans to enhance the BTCL’s quality of service and to enhance the network across the country,” said AKM Habibur Rahman, deputy managing director of the BTCL’s Planning and Development department, adding that one of the initiatives would take telecom services to remote areas of the country, where no such facilities are available yet.
One of the new projects involves the capacity being increased by setting up more underground optical fiber for the 5G rollout. Tk 1,265 crore needs to be spent by the project and the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology is currently going through the feasibility study.
When the project is complete, the BTCL can fulfill the mobile operators’ requirement of 5G connectivity along with upgrading the fixed network services. Erik Aas, the chief executive officer of Banglalink, has stated that proper telecom infrastructure is the precondition of launching such highly advanced 5G technology.
“For 5G readiness, we need optical fibre. If there is no fibre, there will be no 5G. So, all of our optical fibres will go through the underground for 5G readiness soon,” said Rafiqul Matin, managing director of BTCL.
Another project worth Tk 459.85 crore has been undertaken by the BTCL to establish and expand the broadband connectivity, Wi-FI and telecommunications facilities for marginalized people in the remote areas and the wetlands.
The network design work is under way now that the project survey has concluded. A feasibility study was conducted by BUET for the project and has already submitted a draft study report. The BTCL officials have stated that the project is expected to be approved by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) within 3 months.
The project for establishing optical fibre cable networks in all the government colleges, universities, and training institutes for Tk 44.98 crore was completed in June 2020. Five other projects worth Tk 4,941.57 crore are currently in progress; two of them will end by 2021, and three of them by 2023. Improving and expanding BTCL’s internet protocol (IP) network was approved on February 16 this year with a budget of Tk 949.50 crore.
The ongoing project “Modernization of Telecommunication Network (MoTN) for Digital Connectivity” is a big-budget project of BTCL, worth Tk 3,314.9 crore. The budget allocation for this project was Tk 2,573.4 crore at the beginning of last year, but Tk 741.6 crore was added to its allocation a month ago.
The project was mainly undertaken so that the digital connectivity across the country can be increased and will likely continue until the year 2023. Another project, which is worth at Tk 600 crore, is in the works for providing high-speed internet and telecom services to the economic zones under the Bangladesh Zones Authority (BEZA). It is still awaiting final approval from the ECNEC.
A few other projects include starting an app-based BTCL Dialler Service, expansion of GPON service and triple-play service in all the upazila and district levels, modernisation of telecom training centre of BTCL, setting up a telecommunication network in Uttara under RAJUK, transforming Gazipur Telecommunication Staff College into a Telecommunication University, and the establishment of telecommunication and IT infrastructure to build a smart city in Purbachal.
Projects worth Tk 2,728.70 crore for the construction of multi-storey residential buildings in Mohakhali, Motijheel, Banani and BTCL’s CTS and workshop compound have also been proposed to the government. Once the projects are complete, the BTCL’s target to increase speed and bandwidth and decrease latency (delay) will be achieved, said BTRC officials.