In 2009 WiMAX started its journey in Bangladesh with the help of Banglalion, Qubee, and Ollo. Thanks to the wireless high-speed internet, the WiMAX providers got great responses in a short span of time. But the service providers couldn’t last that long. Due to its financial losses and legal complications, the WiMAX providers had to shut down in 2020. Why did Bangladesh adopt this technology in 2009, when the other developed countries declared this technology outdated in 2011? And why did it fail so badly?
WiMAX is an acronym for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access. It’s a wireless broadband technology based on a set of IEEE 802.16 standards that ensure point-to-point data connectivity using multiple physical layers and media access control (MAC).
At the BTCL auction on September 25, 2008, three companies named Banglalion, Qubee, and BRAC BDmail won their licenses, and each company paid BDT 215 crores. Later on, BRAC BDmail Network Limited walked away from it. Qubee’s parent organization Augere Wireless Broadband Bangladesh Ltd officially launched in October 2009 with a co-sponsorship from UK and Bangladesh. As QB offered 2 packages starting from 512Kbps and 1Mbps, the customer had to pay 3,400 and 6,200 BDT. Both packages of modems cost 7,000 BDT. Despite their costly service, the Qubee was able to capture the customer base. The following month, in November, Banglalion Communications Ltd launched its own WiMAX on a trial basis. According to the conditions, the company was supposed to come to the market within six months of getting the license, but it took about 14 months for the company to start its operations.
In the beginning, both the companies were performing quite well. According to BTRC, Banglalion was at the top position with more than 28,000 customers in 2010, while QB had about 15,000 customers. In the next two years due to the high-speed internet facility, the number of customers of both the companies was increasing. In 2012, Banglalion had 3,30,000 customers whereas QB had 1,25,000. In October 2012, state-owned telecom operator Teletalk launched the country’s first 3G service. In 2013 Bangladesh Internet Exchange Limited brought their WiMAX service which was called Ollo. Even though the number of customers increased in the first six months of 2013, WiMAX providers had been losing customers ever since. According to an article in The Daily Star, since other mobile operators launched 3G services in late 2013, customers have begun to lose interest in WiMAX technology. In June of that year, the active subscribers of the WiMax Providers were 5,04,808 but at the end of December, it reduced to 3,15,795.
WiMAX Subscriber Graph
In the beginning, due to acquiring expensive licenses, the WiMAX service providers became financially unstable. The companies were constantly losing customers to the mobile operators, as a result, they were unable to pay govt fees on time. The BTRC sent them letters more than once as the arrears continued to rise. Qubee signed an agreement on sharing the network infrastructure with mobile operator Robi to preserve their existence.
As they continue to face losses, in 2018 the companies had to shut down their services to the general customers and keep their main focus on the corporate customers. Meanwhile, according to another article of The Daily Star, in 2019, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission announced that it would block 95 percent bandwidth of the company to recover Banglalion’s arrears. At that time, Banglalion owed more than BDT 152 crores to BTRC. On the other hand, Qubee’s arrears were more than BDT 56 crores and Ollo owed about BDT 18 crores. In May 2020, the total number of WiMAX subscribers in the country stood at only 2,000.
Why WiMax Failed?
In June 2004, the WiMAX Forum released the first version of WiMax technology. This technology supported transmission speed up to a maximum of 74.81 Mbit/s. Since then, the WiMAX Forum made regular technological advancements and released the latest version in 2010 with a maximum download speed of 330 Mbit/s.
In late 2009, TeliaSonera became the world’s first commercial operator to offer 4G services in Stockholm and Oslo. The maximum transmission speed of 3G technology was 42 Mbit/s whereas the maximum speed of 4G technology increased up to 979 Mbit/s. Thereby, WiMAX technology had almost become obsolete compared to 4G technology. Since 2010, WiMAX forum has not been able to bring any revised version of this technology. On the other hand, this technology was introduced in Bangladesh in 2010, which means WiMax technology was introduced in Bangladesh at the last stage. This old technology started to provide service to customers at a very high price. But as a result of rapid technological development, companies that brought licenses at high prices begin to lose customers before they could achieve any success in business. Along with advanced technology, WiMAX service providers could not keep up with mobile network operators’ network infrastructure and pricing.
As the worldwide upgrading of WiMAX technology came to an end, in 2012, these two companies applied to the BTRC for approval of the LTE technology implementation. Consequently, in the following year of September, QB received NOC from BTRC. Also, the same year in October, Banglalion Communications Limited received NOC. Due to the old technology, the companies have to think about the new network infrastructure within three years of operation. The installation of LTE infrastructure was quite costly. That’s why later on, no company was able to launch LTE internet service. The government subsequently refused to take these failed institutions forward.
Poor Network Coverage
Wimax providers were only city-centric, so they were losing customers due to the poor network coverage elsewhere. The availability of 3G in the city tends to put them further behind. ISP-based broadband services began to expand their operations in the city. As a result, WiMAX service providers became more vulnerable. Even though the institutions started expanding on Upazila level, it was pretty expensive.
It’s not that WiMAX just failed in Bangladesh, even Sprint the USA based telecom provider suffered huge losses only because it relied on WiMAX technology. Sprint was forced to shut down WiMAX provider Nextel they had acquired with 35 billion dollars due to its old aging technology. The same thing happened in Bangladesh. When obtaining the Broadband Wireless Access license, the companies may have thought that it would be a good business. But the companies could not keep pace with the technological advancements. As a result, companies had to face substantial financial losses.
In this context, the BTRC has taken a tough stance in realizing the three players’ outstanding BDT 226.57 crore. It has also decided to cancel the license of Banglalion and take back its allocated spectrum.
The BTRC has placed the issues in a recent commission meeting, where it was decided that Banglalion’s 95 percent bandwidth capacity will be blocked if it fails to clear its BDT 152.61 crore dues. At the same time, the telecom regulator has decided to cancel Banglalion’s license. As of March, Qubee has BDT 56.07 crores in dues and Ollo BDT 17.89 crore. BTRC has been kept in the dark about Qubee and Ollo’s shuttering, said its Chairman Md Jahurul Haque.