Bangladesh joins 100 million cell-phone club

Bangladesh is the latest nation to join the 100 million active cell phone users club – a milestone reached so far by only 12 countries in the world.

Just twenty years ago, even land lines were difficult to obtain  and telephones were considered  signs of wealth and prestige. Today Bangladeshis from all social strata use cell phones, from street vendors to business executives in luxury cars, and from villagers to urbanites.

Many in tye country credit the transformation  to Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, who started his GrameenPhone venture in 1997, vowing to penetrate every strata of the society with cell phone service.

“Now, we have more than 100 million active SIM users. It’s an historic event,”  said Sunil Kanti Bose, chairman of the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC).

Bangladesh has now joined South Asian neighbours India (862m) and Pakistan (122m) on the list of countries with 100m or more mobile phone users. The others are China (one billion users), Russia, Brazil, the United States, Indonesia, Japan, Germany, the Philippines and Nigeria.

Unpleasant Memories

Like in India,  Bangladeshis have unpleasant memories of the ‘landline er’a, when the state-owned Telephone and Telegraph (T&T) Board had a monopoly in all connections. Complaints about corruption were widespread. Even ordinary linemen – the lowest-level technicians – would demand ‘speed money’ from consumers, often becoming wealthy in the process.

Anyone wanting a landline had to get T&T approval, and sometimes even government ministers had their requests turned down. “Before 1996, owning a land phone was a matter of prestige,” explains Monowar Hossain, a former customer who recently turned in his land phone, deeming it “useless”.

All his family members and even the maid servant now use mobile phones, he added.

Mohammad Raihan, a rickshaw-puller in Dhaka’s Mirpur neighbourhood, says the technology has transformed the life of his family.

“I can easily talk to my wife and children back home in Dinajpur whenever I want. I send them money with the mobile (phone) with little cost,” he was quoted as saying.

Biplob Rahman, a student at Dhaka’s Tejgaon College, uses the phone for entertainment as well as staying in touch with friends.

“Mobile phones have created a revolution. I can listen to songs and watch movies in addition to maintaining contacts through social media such as Facebook,” he said.

Analysts point to the economic boon created by the growth of cell phone use. “The mobile phone has brought economic activities to the urban and the rural areas alike,” Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies Senior Research Fellow Nazneen Ahmed says.

“Now, a producer in the remotest area can directly contact the sellers without middlemen,” she said. “Even producers can easily get the market price before they sell.”

Introduction of 3G bandwidth services will further encourage such trends, according to Abu Sayeed Khan, a telecom consultant.

“More internet bandwidth will create huge opportunities for our burgeoning outsourcing sector, creating more job opportunities in Bangladesh,” he believes.

GrameenPhone, now a subsidiary of Norway’s Telenor, remains the largest provider in Bangladesh, with 42% of users. It competes with Banglalink, a subsidiary of Egypt’s Orasmcom; Malaysia’s Robi; India’s Airtel; state-owned Teletalk; and Citycell.

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Posted by on June 6, 2013. Filed under Bangladesh,Breaking News,Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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