A surge in the use of mobile internet data has been offset by a drop in the number of voice calls in Bangladesh amid a nationwide shutdown over the spread of the coronavirus, according to telecom operators.
Telecom companies fear that if the downward trend in voice traffic – a key revenue source -- persists, it could affect their growth and profit forecasts.
Bangladesh announced a shutdown, initially from Mar 26 to Apr 4, for all government and private institutions before extending it to Apr 11 on Tuesday, in a bid to limit the risks of coronavirus.
People are using more internet data at home as they are forced to spend all their time at home. This has, in turn, triggered a fall in mobile phone calls as users are already staying with their families.
Robi Axiata, the second largest mobile phone operator after Grameenphone, has seen an 8.0 per cent fall in voice traffic while the recharges and retail sales slumped 17 per cent and 60 per cent, respectively.
However, the use of internet data rose 21 per cent during the holidays, Shahed Alam, chief corporate and regulatory officer of Robi, told bdnews24.com. He added that it will not be reflected in the company's revenue earnings as the data price is subsidised in these difficult circumstances.
In parts of the country, recharge services were briefly “barred by law-enforcement agencies”, Shahed said.
“Our projected growth and profits will be hampered if this goes on.”
Robi raked in Tk 74.81 billion in revenue in 2019, including a Tk 170 million profit after tax.
Top-up services dropped almost 80 per cent than usual, said 'Mizan', owner of Mizan Telecom store near the BGB Gate 1 in Dhaka.
“No-one comes to top up their mobile phone credit anymore. Earlier, we used to keep the shop open from morning to midnight but now we close at 9pm due to a lack of customers,” he said.
Muhammad Hasan, spokesperson for Grameenphone, highlighted 'mixed trends' when it comes to the use of voice and internet data.
“We need more time to get a clearer picture,” he said.
However, he declined to comment on the effects of the virtual lockdown on the company's accounts, which he described as ‘sensitive’ information.
Grameenphone made Tk 34.5 billion in net profit in 2019 as their income from internet data sales rose 17 per cent alongside an 8.5 per cent increase in voice traffic.
“Customers are using more internet data but the rise isn't very significant,” Ankit Sureka, senior manager of Banglalink's corporate communications, told the aforementioned news agency.
“Recharge services are declining gradually as people are staying at home.”
But the impact of the shutdown on Banglalink's revenue won't be apparent until the first quarterly report is published by its parent company, according to Ankit.
“I used to call and speak to my family for at least half an hour each day. Now that I am always staying with my family, the number of phone calls I make has dropped alongside the expenses. But we’re communicating more through the internet,” said Raihan Ahmed, a resident of Dhaka.