The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has proposed a USD30 million per MHz floor bid price for 1800MHz band LTE-suitable mobile spectrum up for grabs in the country’s auction of spare frequencies pencilled in for March this year. As reported by the Daily Star, the regulator also proposed a USD22 million per MHz starting price for leftover 2100MHz band 3G/4G frequencies being offered in the same auction, and the suggested prices have been sent to the telecoms ministry for approval. During 2G licence renewal over three years ago, the government charged mobile market leader GrameenPhone USD28.2 million per MHz of 1800MHz spectrum, using a methodology which charged a lower rate for operators with smaller user bases – Banglalink, Robi and CityCell. Referencing the previously levied spectrum fees, a BTRC official was quoted by the Star as saying: ‘So the USD30 million floor price for the upcoming auction is rational,’ adding that ‘the floor price for the 2100MHz band has been set at USD22 million on the basis of the prices at the 3G auction in 2013 when the price for each megahertz spectrum in the same band was USD21 million’. However, a representative of the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh called the auction pricing ‘very high’ and not conducive to operators expanding their businesses, stating: ‘The government is selling its additional spectrum, so the price should not be so high.’ Underlining this viewpoint, Taimur Rahman, a senior director of Banglalink, said: ‘The 3G spectrum price already seemed very high as our data price per megabyte is very low and recuperating that cost is becoming very difficult. So we think that spectrum price should be low to ensure data proliferation throughout the country.’ Rahman added: ‘We have another challenge of convincing our shareholders to invest further with the current issues pending such as the tax administrator’s claim of SIM tax,’ referring to another long-standing bugbear in the Bangladeshi mobile operating environment.
The BTRC announced in early December 2014 that the frequencies up for grabs ‘by March’ comprise 2×10.6MHz in the 1800MHz band and 2×15MHz in the 2100MHz range. Telenor subsidiary GrameenPhone and Bangladeshi state-owned Teletalk currently operate 3G W-CDMA/HSPA+ services over 2×10MHz of 2100MHz bandwidth each, while rivals Robi, Banglalink and Airtel all operate 3G with just 2×5MHz of 2100MHz spectrum each under 3G/4G licences auctioned in September 2013, and the additional frequency auction should go some way to levelling the playing field. The private cellcos’ existing 1800MHz GSM licences do not yet permit 4G services.