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Ensuring quality in Bangladesh's telecom industry: a call for vigilance and transparency

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Quality of Service (QoS) is a common term in the mobile industry used to describe the services experienced by customers. In the telecom industry, standard QoS parameters are regularly measured to determine the service standard and customer satisfaction. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has specified certain parameters and their values through research, establishing the minimum requirements for an acceptable level of service. Additionally, each country's local telecom regulatory authority may suggest further parameters and their threshold values. These regulatory bodies typically prepare QoS guidelines that outline the parameters and threshold values that operators must comply with in their network operations. Sometimes, these QoS requirements are also included in the license obligations of the operators.

The price of a telecom service depends on its Quality of Service (QoS). Lower QoS typically entails lower costs, indicating a correlation between service price and QoS. Consequently, comparing the prices of multiple operators is not feasible without normalizing their services to a specific standard QoS. Therefore, the QoS guideline is crucial, and the regulator must ensure its proper implementation to protect consumer interests.

One may wonder if it is possible for operators to detect unintelligible speech quality or slow internet experiences. The answer is yes, it is possible. Operators can measure service levels using various methods. Telecom equipment includes built-in measurement techniques, and operators conduct extensive road testing (drive tests) and in-building walk testing to assess QoS.

The Bangladesh Telecom Regulatory Commission (BTRC) possesses the necessary equipment and technology to conduct drive tests and walk tests, recording the QoS of mobile network operators. These QoS reports could be published regularly to inform the public about the service levels of the operators.

On the BTRC website, three such reports are found. These tests were conducted in the Rangpur, Khulna, and Barisal regions between October and November 2021.

According to the Rangpur division's report, all operators failed to meet the 4G coverage requirements in both city and rural areas. Except for Robi, all operators also failed to provide the minimum 4G download speed of 7 Mbps. Robi's speech quality was below the expected level, with a Mean Opinion Score (MoS) of 3.5, while the other operators were found to be above the acceptable level. The MoS is a measure of the voice quality heard during a phone call.

In the Khulna division, Robi's speech quality was below the acceptable MoS level of 3.5, while the other operators were above this threshold. All operators fell significantly below the 4G download speed target of 7 Mbps. Except for GP, all operators were below the 3G target speed of 2 Mbps in this region. While the coverage obligations for 2G and 3G were met, the 4G coverage obligations were not, indicating inadequate 4G coverage.

Robi and Teletalk failed to meet the minimum voice speech quality requirement of MoS 3.5 in the Barishal division. Additionally, all operators fell short of providing the minimum 4G download speed of 7 Mbps. While GP and Robi managed to exceed 2 Mbps in 3G download speed, Banglalink and Teletalk were below this threshold. Similar to the other divisions, the 4G coverage of all operators failed to meet BTRC's coverage requirement.

Frequency (or Spectrum) and Mobile Stations are two critical infrastructure components for ensuring network QoS. In the 2022 auction, all operators collectively acquired 190 MHz of spectrum, nearly 55 per cent of their total spectrum holdings, which should have significantly helped improve network QoS. However, no recent drive test results were found on the BTRC website, making it impossible to ascertain the current QoS scenario.

Banglalink has decided to shut down its 3G network and rely solely on its 4G network for providing data services. Customers with 3G-only handsets will need to upgrade to 4G phones to continue using data services. Traditional voice calls will be served by the 2G network, and the operator has not yet decided on a 2G shutdown.

Since QoS is a trade-off between service quality and price, it is important that BTRC remains vigilant about QoS and conducts drive tests regularly throughout the country. They should also audit the automated system-generated QoS reports from the operators' telecom equipment to identify deficiencies and take necessary steps to improve them.

Md. Munir Hasan is a telecom professional.

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