Teletalk Bangladesh, a new government-owned mobile network operator, is preparing to launch commercial GSM services across the country next month, according to its managing director Muhammad Obaidullah. The exact date of the launch is as yet unknown, but Obaidullah claims that the nationwide network is ‘ready’ and has an initial capacity of a quarter of a million connections.
The new venture, set up by the state in December 2004 with the aim of lowering tariffs charged by the country’s existing operators, will become the fifth cellco to launch services, and the second to announce a nationwide network rollout this month. The launch of the re-branded Banglalink GSM network was reported by its Egyptian owner Orascom Telecom Holding on 13 February.
Following a 100% buyout in September 2004, Orascom took control of struggling wireless provider Sheba Telecom, which at the time of its sale had just 60,000 subscribers in and around Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet, despite holding a national licence. Since then the cellco has come under new management, assumed the Banglalink trademark and rapidly deployed new network infrastructure, re-launching itself in nine major cities with the intention of extending its coverage nationwide by the end of the year. Orascom says it expects the new subsidiary to invest USD200 million in expanding its coverage, capacity and service offerings over the next few years.
Both of the ‘new’ cellcos have made it clear they will follow a strategy of undercutting their rivals’ prices. Teletalk has revealed details of a forthcoming package that it claims features the ‘lowest per-minute mobile tariffs in the country.’ Meanwhile Orascom plans to offer subscribers a budget deal including a pre-paid connection and a low-priced handset, hoping to emulate some of the success it has enjoyed with its cellular arm in Pakistan, Mobilink.
The rapidly growing Bangladeshi mobile market reached around 3.6 million users by the end of 2004, up from 1.89 million at the start of the year. The current market leader GrameenPhone, finished the year with an estimated 2.5 million subscribers, up from 1.141 million at the end of 2003.