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Bangladesh seeks China fund to address rural-urban digital divide

Bangladesh seeks China fund to address rural-urban digital divide

Eastern Times Correspondent, Dhaka, 9 March: Bangladesh has sought Chinese investment for a Tk 30-billion project that aims at reducing the ‘digital divide. Finance ministry has recently written to the Chinese government in this regard.

The project styled ‘Expansion of Teletalk 4G mobile broadband network up to union level’ is critical to reducing the ‘digital discrimination’ between urban and rural areas, it said.

The scheme intends to expand the network to rural areas in line with the government’s vision of ‘Digital Bangladesh’, the ministry stated in its letter.

One of the key goals of its digital vision is to ensure ‘internet for everyone’ and the execution of the project will only help realise this target.

The state-run cellphone operator, which has been limping in the face of huge expansion of the private mobile operators, needs revamping.

Officials concerned of the finance and telecoms ministries told the FE that China was interested in funding the 5G (fifth-generation) network project. It is likely to bankroll this project which has also a component to upgrade the existing 4G to 5G network.

Sources said the government wants to revamp Teletalk by injecting Tk 100 billion in the next five years.

Of the amount, Tk 50 billion will be invested for Teletalk’s service expansion in the next two years.

The telecoms ministry also plans to increase the volume of investment in phases to expand the capacity of Teletalk so that it can lead the 5G market from 2021.

Of the Tk 50-billion investment, officials said, Tk 30 billion would be invested in ensuring 80-per cent network coverage before the launch of 5G service.

According to telecoms experts, Teletalk is losing its stake in the market for lack of investment, giving freehand to three private operators.

Teletalk would be in a state to compete with its private peers if investment to the tune of Tk 100 billion could be made available, according to insiders.

Official statistics show Teletalk, launched in 2005 with an initial outlay of Tk 6.4 billion, has more than 4.8-million subscribers right now.

According to officials, the operator sought to increase its customer base to 7.0 million by 2020, 10.0 million by 2021, 15.0 million by 2022 and 20.0 million by 2024.

About the expansion scheme in question, Teletalk officials said once implemented, 90-per cent 4G network coverage would be ensured at union level by 2021.

As planned, it will install 5,850 base transceiver stations in 2019-20, 9,510 in 2020-21, 12,510 in 2021-22, 13,310 in 2022-23 and 15,510 in 2023-24.

Five years ago, Teletalk expanded its 2G/3G network up to district and sub-district levels with the investment of Tk 1,7billion. China supported that costly project.

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