The Financial Express

Time to introduce technology-neutral spectrum

| Updated: October 20, 2017 23:27:11

Time to introduce technology-neutral spectrum
Technology Neutrality is a policy approach that allows the use of any technology in any spectrum band. That means, with technology neutrality in place, the mobile operators can offer services through any technology (2G/3G/4G/LTE) using any of the frequencies in their possessions. The freedom to deploy network of any technology using the available spectrum brings overall efficiency which culminates to benefits of mobile phone users of this country.
In Bangladesh, the mobile operators (except Citycell) use three bands of spectrums, namely 900 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2100 MHz. Out of these three bands, 2100 MHz is technology-neutral; that means 3G/4G/LTE services can be offered using this band. However, 900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands are technology-specific, meaning the operators can only offer 2G services using these bands.
Bangladesh is among the very few countries in the world that are yet to introduce technology neutrality. Our neighbouring countries - India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka - have introduced it some years ago. By not introducing technology neutrality, the government is denying its citizens the full benefits of modern wireless technology.
The mobile operators of Bangladesh have been asking for technology neutrality for the last several years.  Unfortunately, the government and the telecom regulator, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), have so far been reluctant to agree on this. The regulator has a view that the operators would not be interested in acquiring more spectrum if technology neutrality is allowed which would result less revenue for the government.   
As a recent development, technology neutrality has been incorporated in the draft National Telecom Policy (NTP), which is expected to be ratified shortly. Despite being adopted in the upcoming policy, the telecom regulator, is contemplating the upcoming spectrum auction of 1800 MHz band for 2G only, whereas this particular band is mostly suitable for 4G/LTE. Technology-neutral spectrum can be more beneficial for all stakeholders - government, industry and citizens. 
First, the government is surely to earn more revenue from selling technology-neutral spectrum than technology specific ones. The operators would be willing to pay more money to acquire technology-neutral spectrum as they would get more benefits for that. Moreover, services from new technologies (4G/LTE/5G) would be introduced promptly based on market demand, eventually expediting the realisation of 'Digital Bangladesh' vision of the government.
Secondly, as for the industry, the main driver is efficiency. For a given block of spectrum, throughput is much higher for 3G than that of 2G. Similarly, throughput of 4G/LTE is much higher than that of 3G. Hence, it makes more business sense for the operators to invest in more efficient technologies. To put into perspective, the spectral efficiency of LTE is nearly seven times than that of 2G technologies presently being used in the country. Moreover, technologically speaking, some bands of spectrum are better suited for urban areas while other bands are more suited for rural topography. The operators would want flexibility for longer term planning of network and spectrum.
Finally, and most importantly, the citizens of the country would get the maximum benefit from efficiency and flexibility. In a competitive market like ours, any benefit resulting from the efficiency of the operators is surely destined to the subscribers. Simply put, if the production cost of the operators decreases, the price at end-user level is to decrease eventually - competition will ensure that. Moreover, the subscribers would enjoy the new innovative services resulting from more efficient and advanced network technologies.
So, it is a win-win for all the three parties if technology-neutrality approach is adopted. Using open and transparent procedures, the telecom regulator should develop practical solutions to handle the commercial and technical implications of the change of technologies within spectrum band(s). The optimal solution can be reached through consultation with all relevant stakeholders, particularly the mobile operators, to attain economically and technically optimised solutions.
The government should ensure the radio frequency resources are put into production for its most valuable use measured both in terms of impact on social welfare and in terms of impact on economic growth.
Mahmud Hossain is Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, Grameenphone.

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