800MHz spectrum frozen by apex court; Bangla-Russian venture applies for 2.3GHz mobile WiMAX concession

15 May 2013

The Dhaka Tribune reports that Bangladesh’s High Court on Monday issued a stay order on the previous award of an 800MHz wireless frequency licence to ISP New Generation Graphics Limited (NGGL), which was allocated the 4G-suitable paired spectrum block free-of-charge by the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC) in August 2011. Following a legal petition by WiMAX operator Banglalion, the court questioned the legality of the gratis spectrum award and gave the BTRC ten days to respond to the ruling. The court heard the argument that the regulator’s actions resulted in a loss of ‘at least USD230 million’ in potential state revenue from a 4G mobile auction, based on the value of 800MHz licence awards in other countries in the same year.

Reportedly, the 800MHz licence was allocated to NGGL for an initial twelve-month period on condition that the frequencies would be utilised appropriately, and the company’s rights to the spectrum were renewed in December 2012, while BTRC’s meeting minutes say that the wireless resources were allocated to NGGL at the request of the Access to Information project under the Prime Minister’s Office. Banglalion’s legal counsel said that the High Court’s stay order meant that smaller rival WiMAX service provider Ollo, which is a joint venture between NGGL, another local ISP Bangladesh Internet Exchange Limited (BIEL) and the latter’s Russian-based parent company Multinet, cannot provide any service using the allotted 2×10MHz band (806MHz-816MHz, 847MHz-857MHz). Ollo-branded WiMAX wireless broadband services are currently available only in Dhaka city, despite the licence being issued free under the Access to Information programme goal of improving connectivity in rural areas. Unconfirmed rumours allege that Ollo is testing a 4G 800MHz LTE mobile broadband network at eight sites in Dhaka and one site in Jessore, although the joint venture would need regulatory permission to launch commercial LTE operations.

According to its website Ollo launched full commercial WiMAX services in Dhaka in January 2012 after ‘starting operations’ in October 2011 courtesy of investment from the Russian Multinet group, which became the parent of BIEL in the process. Ollo announced it signed up 10,000 WiMAX subscribers in Dhaka in the first three months of commercial operations, and by the end of the first quarter of 2013 it claimed that its user total had risen to 25,000. Ollo’s coverage has remained limited to a handful of Dhaka districts with high internet demand, including Uttara, Gulshan, Banani, Mohakhali, Dhanmondi and Motijheel. Ollo says it currently offers business and private customers with WiMAX wireless broadband services via the legacy 3.4GHz-3.6GHz frequencies held by joint venture ISP partners NGGL and BIEL, which permit fixed-wireless internet services only, with no mobility, unlike the 2.3GHz-2.5GHz WiMAX licences issued by the BTRC in 2008 to current market leader Banglalion and nearest rival Augere (Qubee), which allow fixed, nomadic or mobile services, TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database notes. No details are given on Ollo’s website of any current or planned services using the 800MHz band.

In a further development reported today (Wednesday) by the Dhaka Tribune, Ollo (via Multinet/BIEL) has applied for a vacant mobile WiMAX licence left over from the 2008 auction, seemingly prompted by the High Court action. The GlobalComms Database says that Banglalion and Qubee won respective blocks of 2585MHz-2620MHz and 2365MHz-2400MHz in 2008, with the third block (2330MHz-2365MHz) eventually left vacant after being awarded to two successive applicants, bracNET and Mango Teleservices (a wholesale IP bandwidth provider), who failed to satisfy the BTRC’s licence fee payment conditions. BIEL was placed fifth in the 2008 bidding tender. BTRC chairman Sunil Kanti Bose told the Tribune: ‘We received an application from Multinet for a WiMAX permit. After scrutiny, we will send it to the telecommunications ministry. They will get the licence if the government decides to approve, otherwise not.’ Mango Teleservices’ managing director indicated to the newspaper that the company would ‘go to court’ if the vacant licence was issued to Multinet/BIEL/NGGL/Ollo, while barrister Aneek R Haque, who conducted the 2008 auction and is now a counsel of Banglalion, claimed: ‘Guidelines do not allow the BTRC to award a WiMAX licence to Multinet as they [BIEL] had turned it down once already when they were offered.’ Russel Kabir, who sold BIEL to Multinet during the formation of the Ollo joint venture, was quoted as saying: ‘There are some guideline restrictions about granting the WiMAX licence based on BIEL’s auction participation. However, everything depends on what BTRC and the government wants.’

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