Four private sector mobile operators in Bangladesh – GrameenPhone, Banglalink, Robi and Airtel – yesterday deposited the necessary money to bid for 3G spectrum in the upcoming auction set for 8 September. However, a fifth operator, CDMA-based CityCell, did not make the required deposit, and as a result, it will not be able to take part in the long-awaited auction, confirmed the chairman of the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), Sunil Kanti Bose, quoted by Bdnews24.com. Another local newspaper, the Financial Express, adds that CityCell – which is backed by SingTel – sent a letter to the regulator seeking a time extension and demanding reservation of spectrum, mentioning that the operator intends to roll out 3G services otherwise it would not be able to survive in the competitive market. However, Mr Bose told the media that the commission had given CityCell the opportunity to join the 3G auction despite its ‘massive’ pending dues owed to the BTRC, but that eventually the operator’s financial situation had prevented it from taking part, although he offered a glimmer of hope by adding: ‘If any spectrum remains unsold, then BTRC will think over giving CityCell the opportunity for 3G service.’
According to the BTRC’s auction guidelines, four private companies will be awarded 3G licences (with state-owned Teletalk already guaranteed the fifth licence, and no interest in the auction shown by overseas companies). Since only four operators submitted deposits ahead of the auction, there is effectively no competition for a licence per se, although the optimum spectrum allocation could still be fought over – the operators may compete in the first phase of the auction for buying the first two 5MHz blocks of 2100MHz spectrum (with a base price of USD20 million per MHz). Those that win in the first round will get the opportunity to buy an unsold block under the guidelines. The 3G licences may also be utilised for 4G LTE services.