Mobile Communications and Bangladesh.

S. A. T. M. Badrul Hoque
GM, Overseas (May2000)


Introduction : Aggressive growth of mobile communications systems and phenomenal expanse of Internet along with developments in multimedia technology, have already started transforming the way telecommunications is used. The global telecommunications network, once dominated by conversations between friends, relatives, colleagues or business partners, is incredibly becoming the domain of garrulous microchips interactions for updating information in the form of data, text, and increasingly, pictures and sounds. The outstanding success of today’s mobile systems proves that mobility is here to stay. In this backdrop, we will try to have a look afresh, in this paper, of the history of evolution, present status and future prospects of mobile communications in the world in general and Bangladesh in particular.

2. Evolution of Mobile Communications : The idea of Mobile Communications meaning Telecommunications for the mobile regardless of distance and location is one of man’s oldest dreams. Implementations of radio waves for long distance radio communications in late 19th century paved the way for realization of this dream. Use of frequency modulation and electronic techniques enabled the first true mobile telephone service to officially come into being in St. Louis, USA in 1946. But because of its manual operation, service area being restricted to the coverage of a single cell and little radio spectrum availability, the system was characterized by small capacity and low service quality. Moreover, the terminals were heavy, bulky and

expensive. Between 1950 and 1970. when mobile radio systems evolved to become automatic and the costs decreased due to the introduction of semiconductor technology, capacity increased a little but remained too small compared to potential demand.

During 70s large scale integration of electronic devices and development of microprocessors opened the door to the implementation of more complex systems with several receiving stations for a single transmitter - which allowed coverage of a larger area at the cost of additional infrastructure But the real breakthrough came with cellular systems where both transmitting ant receiving sites are numerous and individual coverage areas partially overlap. Instead of trying k increase transmission power, cellular systems are based on the concept of frequency re-use, the same frequency being used by several sites which are far enough from one another, resulting in a tremendous gain in system capacity.

3. IG (First Generation) Cellular Service : The cellular technology first conceived am introduced by the Bell Labs, was studied in various places in the world during the 70s. In the US, the first cellular system, the AMP (Advanced Mobile Phone Service) became reality in 1979 when the first pre-operational network was opened in Chicago, Illinois. In the North-European countries, the telecommunication administrations together with some

manufacturers devised the NMT (Nordic Mobil Telephone) system which aimed at

Scandinavian coverage. The system started operation in Sweden in September 1981, and shortly afterwards in Norway, Denmark and Finland. Although networks based on these two sets of specifications account for the great majority of mobile networks throughout the world in the early 90s, some other brands such as CTI, TACS and JTAC etc. derived from AMPS, were also put in service in different countries, All these cellular systems called first generation of wireless technology using analog speech transmission Frequency Division Multiple Access (FDMA) as the access system, though still work to-day, has low capacity and cannot also accommodate advanced features such as internet access and multi media, and has a tendency to drop calls.

4. 2G (Second Generation) Cellular System : In late 80s and early 90s, the second generation of mobile telephony using digital speech transmission Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) as access system was introduced, different countries having adopted different standards. USA developed digital version of AMPS called D-AMPS to allow backward compatibility with first generation analog system, while Europe developed its own universal system called GSM (Global System for Mobile). Japan developed a unique national standard PDC (Personal Digital Cellular). A unique new system based on a different access technology, the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) developed in mid-90 ultimately replaced D-AMPS in North America. While GSM and CDMA are the digital brands largely used all over the world, some other digital brands in the name of CT2, PWT, DCS1800, PCS1900, PHS, DECT etc.

also are distinctly in use in different countries as in the case of analogue version.

5. 3G (Third Generation) Cellular Service :

Although the second generation of wireless technology allows for easier implementation of

advanced features, better sound quality and increased battery life, its different incompatible standards unable to work together, make universal roaming a difficult task. Moreover, generally operating at speeds of 9.6kbps, 2nd Generation is simply unable to support all the capabilities needed to bring 21st century multimedia services to users. To capitalize on the full potential of tomorrow’s technologies, ITU after about 15 years efforts, adopted a global IMT (International Mobile Telecommunications)2000 standard for third generation mobile services at a meeting held in Helsinki, Finland in November last year paving the way for launch of next generation services in the near future. Japan will be first to come online, with plans to launch the world’s first commercial 30 network in 2001. Europe and other Asian countries will be next, with licenses now being awarded and networks scheduled to begin offering services in 2002. The US, which still maintains a large analogue user base and lags the rest of the world in uptake of digital cellular technology, is due to bring its 30 services sometime in 2003.

6. Astonishing Features of 3G Systems:

Third generation systems, supporting data rates up to 2Mbps, will allow users to make and receive voice calls virtually anywhere in the world, browse and download information from the Internet, receive pre-defined news and information bulletins containing full-motion video and even real-time broadcasts, view and respond to video and audio e-mail, and access any of the information stored on their desktop PC at work or home. The new breed of mobile phone operating through both terrestrial and satellite systems, will be the ultimate personal accessory, combining the features of a telephone, a computer, a television, a newspaper, a library, a personal diary- even a credit card. Built on a globally recognized standard, IMT-2000 will free a mobile phone user to communicate when, where and how he wants to.

  1. Backward Compatibility of 3G Systems:

Given the 30 development, what will happen to the existing 20 infrastructure? Will the carriers require to replace existing network infrastructure with new equipment, often with considerable expense? Two common questions are frequently asked. Answer is not unpleasant. IMT-2000 has been designed to enable provision of cost-effective and efficient inter-working with pre-IMT2000 systems. Today’s global cellular networks have taken many years to build and represent billions of dollars of investment by the world’s telecommunications carriers. It is vital that next generation mobile technology protect the enormous investment of time and money already undertaken, by ensuring that newer handsets and network equipment can still ‘talk’ to the networks that are in place today. In developing IMT-2000 standards, the ITU has, therefore, prepared a set of guidelines, including recommendations, to facilitate an orderly evolutionary path from second generation to third generation.

This means that early adopters of third generation systems will be able to use today’s mobile networks just as they do now. At the same time, they’ll be able to take advantage of the greater range of options available on third generation networks wherever third generation service is available. It also means that carriers will be able to choose to upgrade their network infrastructure gradually while amortizing their investment in second generation networks which will continue to be profitable for many years to come.

8. Paging and Radio Trunking Services:

Other two forms of mobile communications i.e. paging and radio trunking which preceded cellular service with a long time gap, reached high level of penetration much earlier than the cellular market. Despite the fact that cellular technology has prevented further growth of these two services, their existence worldwide in significant number is attributed to the low cost, convenience of one time fixed payment and large coverage

area. While availability of public phone centers all over the country and new innovative feature have caused status quo if not increase of the services in developed countries, absence or ma equate presence of those facilities has caused decrease of the same in developing or underdeveloped countries with the introduction of cellular services.

9.Mobile Satelite System (MSS):

The growth of cellular telephony, although it has been rap is limited because it is uneconomical for cellular network operators to roll out their networks areas of low population density. This means that in the vast majority of countries, fixed and cellular networks will never cover 100% of the landmass. In order to help meet this huge demand basic and mobile telephony and to ensure that one need ever be out of contact with the rest the world or its vast store of information. Mobile Satellite Services were initiated. Mobile Satellite services (MSS) are two-way voice and data communications services to a handheld or fi, terminal, where the final link to the subscribe. via a satellite. This definition covers service provided by satellites operating in any orb position be it Low Earth Orbit (LEO), Mid altitude Earth Orbit (MEO) or Geo-synchronous Earth Orbit (GEO).

For providing MSS, INMARSAT the only organization established in 1979 to serve Maritime industry by developing satellite communications for ship management and distress applications, currently operates a geo-station global satellite system which is used by in pendent service providers to offer an unparalleled range of voice and multimedia communications for customers on the move or in remote locations. Inmarsat services are available maritime, land mobile and aeronautical applications so that users now include worldwide travelers and thousands of people who live or w in remote areas without reliable terrestrial i works. Nearly 100,000 Inmarsat terminals are now in use, mobile terminals on land being more than half of this total number and the rest being fixed terminals on moving ships. On the other hand, total number of aircraft now using Inmarsat based communications for the air passengers has climbed to more than three thousand.

  1. Global Mobile Personal Communication via Satellite (GMPCS):

    Though Inmarsat mobile terminals serve the purpose of mobile communication from anywhere of the world, its sets inspite of present Mini-M size no larger than an A4 laptop computer and weighing only 2.3 Kg, is not as easily carry-able as a cellular set. So idea of a new form of satellite communication using handheld set like that of cellular system has been evolved - Global Mobile Personal Communication via Satellite (GMPCS). Under the auspices of ITU, a GMPCS-MoU is now in circulation for signing by Telecom. Administrations, GMPCS Operators, Service providers and Manufacturers in order to agree to cooperate according to their respective roles and competencies on type approval of terminals, Licensing of Terminals, Marking of Terminals, Customs Arrangements, Access to Traffic Data etc. The objective of these arrangements is to provide a framework for the introduction of GMPCS, including (1) the permission to carry a terminal into a visited country and to use it, within the framework of a licensing scheme (i.e. without the need for obtaining individual authorization for the terminal in the visited country); (2) the permission to carry the terminal into a visited country but not to use it; (3) the technical conditions for placing terminals on the market. Under the provisions of these arrangements, the signatories and all concerned will be able to cooperate in the development of GMPCS to the benefit of users worldwide. The benefits of GMPCS will be fully realized when a significant number of Administrations and / or Competent Authorities offer necessary authorization for

  2. Major Players in GMPCS:

    The major companies that came up for offering voice and data communications over GMPCS on global basis are Iridium, Global Star, ICO, etc. and that, for offering the same on regional basis are Thuraiya, ACeS etc. Teledesic is another company scheduled to offer data communications over GMPCS. Either Low Earth Orbit (LEO), Middle Earth Orbit (MEO) or Geo-synchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) satellites will be used by the GMPCS operators according to cost effectiveness of each system. Iridium launched its service in mid 1998 but unfortunately has failed miserably due to some organization problems and is anticipated to never turn back. Other companies are preparing for launching the services in 1-3 years time. Thuraiya is scheduled to launch its service hopefully in November this year.

  3. Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) :

    Another part of mobile communications is maritime communications which has both humanitarian and commercial aspects, the former having priority over the latter. The Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) is to provide secure and reliable communications for shipping worldwide and is to provide assured and largely automated distress messaging. Regulation 5, Part-B, Chapter-4 (Radio communication) of SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) Convention, 1974 of IMO (International Maritime Organization) provides that each Contracting Government undertakes to make available, as it deems-practical and necessary either individually or in co-operation with other Contracting Governments, appropriate shore-based facilities for space and terrestrial radio communications services having due regard to the recommendations of the Organization. These services are (a) a radio communications service utilizing geo-stationary satellites in the Maritime Mobile-Satellite Service; (b) a radio communications service utilizing polar orbiting satellites in the mobile -satellite service; (c) the maritime mobile service in the bands between 156 MHz and 174MHz; (d) the maritime mobile service in the bands between 4,000 kHz and 27,500 kHz; and (e) the maritime mobile service in the bands between 415 kHz and 535 kHz and between 1,605 kHz and 4,000 kHz. The Regulation also provides that each Contracting Government undertakes to provide the Organization with pertinent information concerning the shore-based facilities in the maritime mobile service, mobile-satellite service and Maritime Mobile-Satellite Service established for sea areas which it has designated off its coasts. By a circular issued in June 1996, IMO made it compulsory for all the ships (passenger and cargo) to be equipped with GMDSS installations by 1 February 1999.

  4. Bangladesh Scenario:

    Bangladesh scene in respect of mobile communications is not an exception to that of other developing or underdeveloped countries. The fact that all the mobile communications systems more or less are available in the country, indicates the services importance in general and indispensability in particular cases.

    1. Terrestrial Mobile System:

      As compared to other Asian countries Bangladesh introduced mobile communications system a little bit late. In 1989, a local company named BTL (Bangladesh Telecom Limited) was given license for operating paging, radio trunking, riverine communications and cellular radio telephone in private sector. This company though introduced paging and radio trunking, could not successfully operate riverine communications, and cellular radio telephony was transferred to another company named HBTL (Hutchinson Bangladesh Telecom Limited). The first ever cellular radio telephone service in Bangladesh was introduced in 1993 by this new company which of course changed its name to PBTL (Pacific Bangladesh Telecom Limited) in 1996. Later on, 3 more private companies named

      Grameen Phone, TMIB, Sheba Telecom given licenses for operating cellular telecom vices in late 1996. Cellular technology’s analogue version AMPS and digital versions and CDMA are now being used in the cot AMPS being gradually replaced by CDMA

      Total number of cellular telephone subscribers of these four companies combined together stands at around 1,55,000 which is approximately one-third of the total number of fixed line scribers of BTTB and two private rural telecom operators. This number compared to o’ world growth rate of mobile telephone scribers whose total number is expected to take that of wireline phones just by end of year, may though seem low, is high enough comparison with growth rate of fixed phone in the country. Nevertheless, growth potential mobile phones is very high in the country vided appropriate measures are taken. Two companies named BBTT and Global One recently been given licenses for installing Dhaka 200,000 Japanese brand PHS (Per Handy phone System) and 50,000 European brand DECT (Digital Enhanced Cot Telephone) respectively. BBTT will open system on the basis of revenue sharing BTTB and Global One will install equipment under supplier’s credit scheme.

      Compared to overall world market, Bangladesh Scenario in respect of paging and radio trunking services is very bleak. Total number of p subscribers which rose to about 8,000 with 3 years after its introduction in early 90s has come down to less than 5,000 while the number of radio trunking subscribers with slow growth rate now stands at around 1,400 all over the country. Though deplorable conditions in these two important mobile services is mainly attributed to introduction of cellular systems there may be other causes which are to be and remedial measures, to be taken. Ability pagers to screen calls and its uniqueness guaranteeing fast and secure ways of contacting people and some other features should still make it a more attractive communications tool even in cellular environment.

    2. MSS (Mobile Satellite Services):

      As regards mobile satellite services, BTTB now acts as service provider of Inmarsat terminals. Individual or corporate parties interested in having lnmarsat MSS, themselves purchase terminals and get registered to Inmarsat through BTTB which as accounting authority is supposed to get some terminal registration charge and mark-up on LES (Land Earth Station) bills for registration and collection of bill charges respectively. But pending approval on fixation of these amounts by the appropriate authority, BTTB is now doing these functions free. Because of absence of necessary infrastructure facilities specially Inmarsat Land Earth Station (LES), number of subscribers in this sector now totalling only 49 (mostly shipping companies) is not growing much in spite of great prospect.

    3. GMPCS:

      As regards GMPCS, temporary license on experimental bsis given to Iridium in late 1998 was twice extended in 1999 for introduction of worlds first ever GMPCS service in Bangladesh. But unfortunately, this company because of its bankruptcy could not succeed to introduce the service in Bangladesh as elsewhere in the world. Now two regional GMPCS operators--- Abudhabi based Thuraiya and Indonesia based ECeS are trying to have licenses for operating their services in Bangladesh.

    4. GMDSS:

    As regards GMDSS, BTTB has got two maritime mobile base stations at Chittagong and Khulna for ship-to-shore and shore-to-ship communications. Any ship located within 30 nautical miles in sea off Bangladesh coast, can have radio telephone in VHF system and ships plying anywhere in deep sea can have communications regarding urgency, distress and safety through wireless telegraphy in MF and HF system with these two stations. There being no Inmarsat LES in Bangladesh, communications through fixed or mobile Inmarsat terminals installed in the ships is of course effected through other neighboring LESs in the region.

  5. Actions to be taken :

Bangladesh has got great necessity and hence prospective market of Mobile communications systems and services which at the moment, are passing stages of, in some cases-gestation, in some cases-infancy and in some cases-adolescence. In order to bring forth and foster the services up to the stage of maturity, the points which are to be properly addressed and taken care of, are


14.1 Introduction of Cellular Mobile Telephone by BTTB : National Telecom Policy 1998, with a view to achieve 1% telephone density for 130 million population by end of 2000, envisages availability in the country of 1.3 million telephones by the same period. Number of telephones both fixed and mobile that are already existing and expected to come out of the projects in hand in public and private sectors counted together, will be far less than the targeted number by end of this year. Having taken all these into consideration, the Policy makers most probably thought of introduction of cellular mobile telephone by BTTB in late 1999 or early 2000 to achieve this target. But unfortunately, for unknown reasons BTTB has not yet been allowed to introduce this service much eagerly sought by the general public despite all the criticism thrown to it. BTTB, the first and major telecom operator, if allowed as per Telecom Policy which dictates fair and equitable treatment for all the players in the field, can with its experience, expertise, existing huge infrastructure and with cheaper and faster network development, fill up the gaps of the set target with introduction of cellular mobile telephones of its own.

14.2 Augmentation of BTTB’s Networks

Given the fact that BTTB having large national and international transmission networks, remains at present and will remain in foreseeable future major telecom operator of the country, overall nationwide and overseas telecommunications need of a mobile phone user will not be met unless connectivity and capacity of BTTB’s concerned networks are simultaneously augmented in proportion to the increase of mobile phones. Although there are provisions, in development projects now under implementation, to increase capacity of national networks, arrangements for enhancing interconnection facilities and augmentation of capacities of overseas installations such as international trunk automatic exchanges and satellite earth stations are yet to be made.

    1. Legal Frame Work:

      Though Telecom Policy encourages liberalization and privatization in some of the fields specially mobile communications, it does not foretell anything about the number of licensees to be fixed. As existence of monopoly or a few number of players in the field brings about tendency in concerned operators of non-competitive high price fixation, so existence of so many players may create chaotic environment deterring smooth functioning of the systems. Therefore, it is imperative that number of licensees system-wise and area-wise be fixed by regulation so that operators can offer and subscribers can get desired services cost-effectively. Moreover, with many licenses issued, nothing tangible is going to happen without proper planning and co-ordination on the part of the Regulatory body to integrate discrete networks into one interconnected harmonious network. The power and functions of the Regulatory authority should therefore be considerably enhanced in order to enable it to enforce compliance to technical and economic determinations and directions.

      14.4 Interconnection Regulations In a multi-

      player environment, it should be ensured that access to all networks is open, economical and cost-based. Absence of Interconnection Framework can result in i) discrimination in providing access to network components and services; ii) price discrimination and raising of co to competitors by charging fully allocated cost excessive leased line charges, etc.;

      iii) imposition of discriminatory technical terms and conditions of interconnections. So, along with farming of interconnection regulations. interconnection charges should be set so as to promote efficient and sustainable competition and to encourage, use of existing networks when to do so is technically viable and economically efficient, and d courage the wastefull duplication of resources

    2. National Numbering Plan :

      With m and more players already existing and ever increasingly coming in different telecommunications fields and given the critical importance numbering in a competitive environment, a comprehensive long term National numbering plat to be implemented to cater for customer growth as well as for the need of different fixed mobile networks and services deserving equal and fair treatment in allocation of respect numbers.

    3. Tariff Regulation:

Pricing of mobile vices being often too high to encourage with spread use, particularly in poorer communities ITU Secretary General in this year’s W’ Telecom Day message, has urged the operators and regulators to find new ways to bring d the cost of wireless access so that a great nun of people can benefit from this increasingly important technology. With this end in view, Regulatory body should evolve appropriate mechanism for tariff fixation so that it is aft able by the majority of the public while producing a reasonable commercial return on investment made by the service providers on the cerned services.

14.7 MSS (Mobile Satellite Services) :Fo effective and profitable MSS, such arranger is to be made that BTTB has its own Inmarsat LES which will not only facilitate large scale introduction of land MSS in Bangladesh but also enhance country’s Maritime communications capabilities so essential to fulfill its IMO (International Maritime Organization) obligations as a littoral member state. If establishment of Inmarsat LES is not possible at the moment due to fund constraint, agreement may be made with 1 or 2 foreign LESs offering maximum benefit for MSS routing which is now done through several LESs creating accounting problems.

    1. GMPCS and GMDSS :

Though introduction of GMPCS through issuance of license to intending parties is not linked with signing of GMPCS-MoU, in order to create confidence in all parties concerned and to avoid policy of duplicity, GMPCS-MoU should be signed as early as possible specially when it does not lay any obligation on and hamper sovereignty of the signing country. Number of world players in this field being very few, Irridium failure case should not discourage giving license to others. As regards GMDSS, the two coast stations at Chittagong and Khulna having very old out dated equipment, need immediate up-gradation by installing modern equipment. This will, in addition to keep our ports’ accessibility attractable to ships at all times, ensure safety of our limited resources that ply over the sea to fetch much needed foreign currency.

14.9 Spectrum Management : Last but not the least, spectrum management is what is to be addressed very seriously in a crowded environment of wireless service providers depending solely on allocation of frequencies for operation of their services. This includes obtaining access to spectrum; protecting existing spectrum uses; evaluating technical options to establish national spectrum policies; setting technical standards, regulations, procedures; keeping abreast with technology developments and demand for new applications/services; developing automated tools for licensing and monitoring. The radio spectrum is a limited resource, and to use it effectively requires an effective national management policy. Government must address future spectrum requirements for spectrum access as well as regulate current usage of the spectrum resource. A spectrum management program has many facets. To effectively manage the spectrum resource - technical, administrative and financial data must be collected, transmitters located, management policy put in place, personnel trained, and the user parties educated.

  1. Conclusion : Since its debut in the early 1980s, the mobile phone has become one of the

single most popular technological developments of our age. While in developed countries with telephone density somewhere more than 30%, mobile phone has supplemented the wire line fixed telephones, in under-developed and developing countries like ours with telephone density somewhere less than 1% mobile telephone has complemented the wire line fixed telephones. With some 450 million users already connected to mobile networks around the world and predictions of growth to 800 million by the year 2003, it seems certain that wireless telephony will soon be the preferred way of keeping in tduch with other people and of accessing a whole range of information services on-the-move. So in consonance with the world move and in consistence with popular demand, we have no alternative than to move forward to implement whatever is necessary to boost mobile communications systems and services in both public and private sectors alike.